Printing & Design Tips: September 2002, Issue #14

What You Should Know About Printing Inks

Ink is such a broad subject. One could write an entire book about it. But the following is a good, short primer on a few qualities of ink that could prove to be problematic if you're not aware of them ahead of time. Make sure to discuss these with your printer when bidding out a job.

Slow-Drying Ink
Reflex blue ink takes a long time to dry. Some printers say it never dries completely. If possible, choose an ink composed of fewer--rather than more--parts of Reflex blue. Sometimes even moving one or two colors away from (for instance) PMS 286 in your PMS book will make a positive difference. Note that your PMS book will usually show the proportions of various inks used in a particular PMS color. Also, expect your job to take an extra day to dry if you use Reflex blue. This time isn't always needed, depending on the humidity, but it's better to be safe.

Wax-Free Inks
Specify wax-free inks for jobs you will imprint in a laser printer, like stationery. The high heat of such printers would otherwise smear the ink. Also, let your printer know if you plan to coat the piece (UV or aqueous coating) since wax-free inks will be needed in this case as well.

Transparent Inks
Remember that process colors are transparent. If you are printing on a colored stock, ask your printer about adding opaque white to the ink formulation. This will minimize the effect the base paper's color will have on the colors of ink you are using. Some printers will even paint the sheet with opaque white first to create a neutral base on which to lay down ink.

Even Coverage
To avoid uneven ink coverage when printing a heavy-coverage background of black, consider a "double hit" of the color (requires two printing units), or consider laying down an undercolor build of cyan, magenta, and yellow (your printer can determine the percentages so you can set up the files accordingly). This will provide a rich, solid black. If you're working with large solids made up of colors other than black, you can also use the double hit technique. Again, this will cost more since two printing units will be needed.

Fluorescent Inks
Consider using fluorescent inks to achieve bright colors, particularly on colored stocks. Some printers even add these inks to their CMYK mixes to intensify the colors. Talk with your printer early, though. These do not behave on press like regular PMS colors, more ink is needed than with non-fluorescent colors, and it is harder to match these colors to the inks in color swatch books.

Metallic Inks
Metallics can also add variety to your printed pieces. Keep in mind, though, that the metals used may tarnish, and the ink may scuff. Consider varnishing the metallic to minimize scuffing, but remember that varnish will also subdue the metallic sheen somewhat. It is a trade-off. Also, if you are printing companion pieces that must match, print them at the same time if possible so the tarnishing will be similar. Or at least have the inks mixed at the same time, since the most dramatic color change will occur within the first 24 hours.

Smooth Substrates
If you are printing on metal foil or plastic, discuss ink formulations with your printer to ensure good drying and adhesion to the substrate.

If you are designing packaging material, discuss the product with your printer. Some products will cause the inks on the packaging to smear, bleed, or change their hue. The ink manufacturer can alter the ink formulation to avoid this.

If you are producing signage to be used outside in sunlight and weather, discuss lightfastness and water resistance with your printer.

How Big Should Your Envelope Be?

If you have chosen a standard sized envelope and you need to design a fold-over card that will fit comfortably, how can you determine the proper size of the insert? As a rule of thumb, allow for 1/4" on either side when the piece is inserted (a total of 1/2" shorter than the envelope's horizontal dimension), and make the piece 1/8" shorter in height (top of the envelope to the bottom fold). If you are producing a complicated marketing campaign with many inserts, discuss with your printer how much smaller you will need to design the inserts to allow for the increased bulk of the envelope's contents.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]