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Catching the On-Press Culprit

(February/March 2019) posted on Mon Mar 04, 2019

Whether it was the art, screen, ink, or a combination that caused your job to go south on press, here are four steps you can take to identify the snag – and prevent it from happening again.

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By Thomas Trimingham

Many variables can change an ink color on press. Some of the more common ones are not enough underbase, an ink that is too transparent, a strong shirt color, and inks blending in unexpected ways on top of each other. But there are many other factors that can result in a color matching problem. To get a handle on this issue, it can be super helpful to print a reference guide of your inks on some sample shirt colors that you consistently use (white, black, royal blue, red, sport gray, etc.). Print them in sequence with several variations on and off of an underbase. This will take an investment of your time, but assuming that you have a standard ink set that you recommend to customers, it’s one of the only ways to really predict what the printed color will look like in different final printed conditions. (See Figure 5.)


It’s important to note that the process I’m recommending isn’t part of the Pantone matching system or simulating PMS colors from corporate logos. It just helps you do your best to match the colors that are in the original image on your computer screen. For matching specific colors in a Pantone book, look to your ink manufacturer. Remember that even with a good ink system, you will often still have the same color matching challenges if prints shift due to the variables mentioned above.

If you find you’re always mixing colors while your press is sitting idle, it’s time to buckle down and create a set of reference prints on different shirt colors. They will give you a much higher probability of hitting a close color match on press. Typically, once you’re on press, your options for adjusting the color are limited. You can change the ink and hope you hit the original hue you were aiming for, or you can attempt to change the art or printing process to minimize the variables that are causing the shift. All of those steps take away valuable press time.

For some jobs, it may be best to go ahead and print out a test strip of your proposed colors on the actual shirts and then use the best values from the test to engineer the separations so that when they hit the press, the colors will be accurate. This type of investment is best saved for high-volume runs or hot-market jobs where press downtime could be a killer to profits. 

Using simple strategies and guides can help you troubleshoot on-press problems quickly. Knowing how to define and solve issues related to registration, dot gain, trapping, and color matching will minimize these common issues and get your team printing faster and more profitably. 

Read more from the February/March 2019 issue


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