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Color-Matching Ink Systems from the Ground Up

(February 2007) posted on Thu Feb 22, 2007

Discover what types of mixing systems are available, how to use them, and where you can get them.


By Thomas Trimingham

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Color-matching ink systems allow garment screen printers to create simulations of Pantone colors and, with custom-mixing capabilities, replicate a variety of customer-required colors and color palettes. These tools always seem to be a hot topic because they help screen printers manage what would otherwise be a difficult task. Printers who are prepared to work with color-matching ink systems will find that a good system can streamline the whole ink department. But getting to this point requires the proper setup of a color-matching area and the acquisition of the right equipment. The next steps involve using the system to accurately match colors and reassess the process when things don't look right.

This article will discuss ways to set up an effective mixing space, properly use a color-matching ink system, and troubleshoot the ink-mixing process. Let's start with a review of color terminology and attributes for ink mixing and matching.

How light creates the color in your inks

Human eyes are amazingly sensitive instruments. They can perceive millions of colors. Fortunately, you'll never have to match more than a fraction of these colors with inks! Most printers can get the job done with a group of inks in each major primary and secondary color (red, blue, yellow, orange, green, purple) and then mix the rest as needed.

An ink's composition is indicative of how it mixes to create additional colors. Inks comprise pigments suspended in clear or semi-opaque bases with other agents, depending on the type of ink in use (plastisol, water-based, etc). Inks don't actually produce color. The pigments in the ink reflect a wavelength of colored light while absorbing the rest. If all of the color is reflected it becomes white ink; if all wavelengths are trapped, then the ink appears black. A red ink absorbs all colors except for the red light.

To be even more specific, the pigment suspended in the base of the ink does the coloring. The reason this distinction is important is because there is always a quality to the pigment load itself, and the way it is distributed in the base will affect the ink's interaction with other inks. The attributes of ink's pigment load (Figure 1) can be categorized as follows:

Hue This characteristic is where we get the name of the ink (red, blue, etc.). It is defined by the wavelength of light that the pigment reflects.


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