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Ink Mixing and Matching

(February 2010) posted on Mon Jan 25, 2010

Tools of the trade for screen printers

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By Gail Flower

Color matching at its best involves both art and science. When a customer demands a quick turnaround requiring a custom color match, it’s important that you have the tools at hand to recreate the desired color using both skill and science. In this article, we ask a cross-section of suppliers about what‘s available for ink mixing/matching/dispensing.

Assessing the task at hand
Printers are confronted with many difficulties when mixing custom colors with plastisol ink, says Morgan Young, a tech-support specialist at Lancer Group Int’l. The most important question is: How does a printer reproduce Pantone shades exactly?

In the past, many printers mixed colors by eye, but human eyes see color differently. What we see depends on the substrate, the available light (pointing to a need for a light box when matching colors), ink density, the printer’s color-vision acuity, and other factors. Printers would start out with a similar color matched to a Pantone numbered print and then tweak it with black, white, and other colors. It was time-consuming and based on trial-and-error. The printer would end up with an excess of mismatched, wasted ink.

Most major ink companies offer a color-matching system, and this includes a formulation guide to reproducing Pantone colors. But custom colors, unlike standard Pantone colors, require a little more expertise to create accurately. Kent Hudson, national sale manager at International Coatings Company, explains that a basic understanding of color theory is needed just to begin the process. He says all colors can be created from primary red, blue, and yellow; tinting and shading are done with white and black; and secondary colors represent a mix between the primaries: purple, green, and orange.

You can use a simple color wheel to determine color opposites, which make colors look dirty. For example, red and yellow make orange; yellow and blue make green. If you mix green and orange, you come up with brown.

The basic tools
Pantone formula guides are commonly used by designers, prepress professionals, and printers alike. Some suppliers suggest replacing these guides annually, because colors in the printed format tend to turn yellow over time. A light box provides lighting in a controlled environment for viewing custom colors and displaying possible matches in daylight, fluorescent, and incandescent light conditions.


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