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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 systems generally fall into two categories: a finished ink system where two or more inks from a set of 12-15 blending inks are mixed together to form a finished color, and a component system where pigment concentrates are mixed in various combinations with a semi-opaque base to form a finished ink of a specific color. The component system may offer a slight advantage in terms of control and flexibility, while the finished ink systems are super simple and tend to be more opaque (and moderately brighter). Finished inks tend to be a better choice for those who specialize in producing really bright prints on dark shirts (e.g., black, purple) because of the inks' higher opacity and brightness.

The biggest decision you face in selecting which ink system to use is often more about service than product. The supplier that provides the most reliable service and has good plans for contingencies (quick shipping, replacement of bad ink, equipment service, and effective communication/ordering) will often be the better choice.

Software for color matching is another consideration. The system should provide some of the following:

• formulas for Pantone color simulations with a breakdown of components that will adjust depending on the amount of ink needed

• ability to add custom mixes and adjusted Pantone mixes to the software database

• formulas for a custom color palette of commonly used colors

• ability to estimate the needed ink for a specific job through a breakdown of ink weight per shirt (weigh the shirt before and after printing and then input this into the software with the screen mesh for an estimate of the amount of ink needed)

• average cost of print in ink per shirt

• a place in the database for storing notes on a specific mix.

Mixing a Pantone color simulation in a color-matching system is relatively simple. Just open up the software and select the color and quantity of ink needed. Next, add the inks or pigments and base together in the amounts shown, then fully mix them in an appropriate bucket. If you don't have automatic mixing equipment, a useful tool is a hand-held drill with a mixing blade that will work at slower RPMs. This will allow you to fully mix inks quickly and eliminate the physical exertion.


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