Join Claudia McCue for an in-depth discussion in this video How spot color inks are created, part of Print Production: Spot Colors and Varnish.
I don't know what you think of when I say ink. But I can tell you that commercial printing inks are not at all like those little ink jet cartridges that we keep putting in our desktop printers. They start out as powdered pigments which are then combined with binders to make the base inks that then are combined to make the spot colors. It used to be 14 base inks, but now with the PANTONE PLUS series, we have 18 base inks. So here are the base colors for the PANTONE PLUS series. It's a lovely rainbow. And if you have a PANTONE formula guide, you can see the recipes. You can see which amount of each color is needed in order to create, a spot color. If you're creating, a fluorescent color, here are the base colors for that series. And then the metallics, an these are the older metallics not the premiums, these are the base color, for those metallics.
And then, the pastels and neons, they're a little bit fluorescent. They're a little paler, but they're still fluorescent. They still have a certain vibrancy to them. Those are the base colors for those. And then, I mentioned earlier, the premium metallic series. And those are all based off this very fine green silver. And then that's combined with various other colors to make color metallics. You would think with 1,677 colors, that would be more than you would ever need, but there are still times when you need to have an ink specially mixed for certain purposes.
For example, I live in the Atlanta area, and over the years I've worked on jobs for Coca Cola, that required us to have a special red mixed up, to make sure that it perfectly matches that Coke red. And often, we would use that to create what's called a touch plate, some places call it bump plate, or kiss plate. And that's to add color to an image, so that you perfectly match a product, and in a later movie, I'm going to show you how to make a touch plate. Sometimes, special inks are mixed up so that a company can have a unique identity. They're not using a color that anybody else is using.
I think the funniest story I've heard, though, about mixed inks involves a national fast food chain that wanted to create a chart for their kitchen wall so that the cooks would know when chicken nuggets were perfectly done. If they match the color on that chart, they knew the chicken nuggets were perfect. So they brought in a batch of chicken nuggets for the ink technician, who mixed up a batch of custom ink that matched those perfect chicken nuggets. And when he ran the job on the press, what did they bring to check the job? Chicken nuggets. Press room smelled wonderful, everybody got lunch, the chart was perfect. Everybody went home happy.
Printing companies may keep a small stock of some common spot colors on hand, but usually, spot colors have to be mixed in advance of a printing job. Some printing companies have their own ink specialists on staff, but many rely on dedicated ink companies to create the spot inks for them. Ink technicians are specialists, they have an eye for precision and they understand how ink interacts with paper. Using the ink mixing recipes in the PANTONE formula guide, the ink specialist begins by combining those specified inks according to weight. Now here, he's mixing a small test batch of PANTONE 485. But the recipes from PANTONE are just the starting point. The ink has to be tested for a number of important characteristics. Here, he's loading a carrier with the prescribed amount of ink so that this ink can be tested for tack.
Now, tack is the inks ability to adhere to paper and also to earlier inks. For example, on most printing presses, they'll run the black first, so it has to have the highest tack so that it can adhere to the paper. Then the cyan is laid down next. It has to have sufficient tack to stick to the paper and the black ink, but not so much tack that it pulls up the black ink that's already been printed. And of course, as each subsequent ink is printed it has to have sufficient tack to adhere, but not so much as to pull up previously laid down ink. Now, while the color of the ink and its tack level are correct, it may also be important to determine the opacity of the ink, and that's its ability to carry that color on a white substrate as well as on darker stock. So here, he's using a little tool to pull down and apply just a specified thickness of ink onto paper.
And after it's dried, the color's going to be judged, but also its coverage as it falls over both the empty white stock and that black stripe. Body in an ink determines how it behaves on press, that's its viscosity. And that determines how it transfers from rollers to plate to blanket, and then how it transfers to the paper. So for example, a high speed press needs ink with a heavier body to avoid misting. Now that the testing has been completed, it's time to create the final batch of ink.
This ink specialist is mixing the appropriate amounts of the two required basings in order to create a larger batch of Pantone 485. And notice how heavy the ink is. It's not like the way you envision inkjet inks being sort of watery. It's very heavy. It's very thick. And he's measuring it out according to weight. That bucket is sitting on a scale and so he knows exactly how much ink he's transferring into the bucket where he's going to mix those two colors together in order to make the final batch of PANTONE 485. And you can see that he's clamping it down and he's going to mix it with this industrial mixer. And now, that may look enormous to you, this is actually a fairly small batch of ink.
They mix much larger batches of ink and they have absolutely enormous devices that makes those ink. Very heavy duty that actually make these look small by comparison. And here, you can see the enormous containers of ink. It's finished an it's ready to be shipped, to printing companies all over the United States. It's hard to get an idea of how big they are, until you see people standing next to them, an that gives you an idea of scale.
Now, after you've seen this process, I think you probably have a much better idea of the combination of precision and artistry that goes into creating printing inks.
- Why spot colors are necessary
- Making a decision between spot and process colors
- Choosing a spot color
- Understanding the effects of stock on color
- Printing spot colors digitally
- Using varnishes
- Creating a multi-tone image in Photoshop
- Adding Pantone color swatches to Illustrator
- Creating spot varnishes in Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign
- Using preflight profiles in Acrobat