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Why Pantone Color Matching Is a Textile Screen Printer’s Worst Nightmare

(November 2015) posted on Mon Nov 09, 2015

Pantone colors are trendy, they're high in demand, and they're a dreaded battle. Your closest ally? Your customers. Get them on your side with this quick lesson in color matching.

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By Charlie Taublieb

I’m not sure who the first garment printer to decide he could do a Pantone color match was. It was many years ago, and I’m sure the individual never realized the trouble he started. But I hope he had as much difficulty producing that job as most printers have today when trying to match Pantone colors, or even explaining them to their customers.

Our problems begin with the designers and the swatch books they use to select Pantone colors. These books, many designers don’t realize, were made for offset printing on paper. That’s why the Pantone books have “C” colors, for printing on coated white papers with a glossy finish, and “U” colors, for uncoated white papers, which have a matte finish.

So, what’s wrong with this picture? Well, we aren’t offset printers. We don’t print paper. Many of the garments we print aren’t white. Yet, this is the color reality that most garment printers must work with, at least some of the time.

Understanding the Challenge
Let’s start with the “C” colors. In order to get the glossy print shown in the Pantone book, we would need to lay down a substantial amount of ink. That translates into a hard hand, which is the opposite of the soft-feeling prints that most of our clients want. Or, we could use a high-density ink printed through a thick stencil, but most clients today aren’t willing to pay for HD. And while the ink in the bucket may resemble the specified “C” color, it will change after printing on a white garment because the ink will soak into the shirt, resembling something closer to a “U,” matte finish.

What about the “U” inks? They’ll also look glossy in the bucket, but will have a matte finish on the final shirt, so long as the ink deposit isn’t too thick.

So, should we tell clients they should always specify “U” colors in order to get finished prints that are within an acceptable range of what they see in the Pantone book? No, because you’d be telling them to specify colors based on a chart that was made for specifying offset-printed colors on white paper.


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