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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven 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.

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Commercial Printing: Uses for White Ink and Toner

I just read an article in about white ink and toner. Although printing extends beyond the IT uses of laser printers, I think it is noteworthy that IT articles are now touting the benefits of white ink.

To borrow a fashion metaphor, “White is the new black.”

The article (“White Printing Is the Next Big Thing,” by Ray Shaw, 11/26/13) focuses on OKI printers’ new ability to laser print and inkjet print white ink or toner as well as clear ink or toner.

The specific equipment the article reviews is the OKI C941, “an A3 digital LED color printer aimed at the graphic arts and commercial printing needs.”

Before I hone in on the implications of white and clear ink printing, I want to highlight the fact that OKI is providing equipment specifically aimed at graphic arts production needs (in addition to their line of office laser printers), and this one in particular uses the newer LED imaging technology (in lieu of the older laser imaging technology). I think both of these developments bode well for graphic arts and custom printing in general.

The five-station OKI C941 printer images an A3 sheet (11.7” x 16.5”), with expanded paper capacity for up to 13” x 52” banners. It will laser print on transparent media, polyester, banners, cover printing stock, and magnets, to name a few substrates.

The Implications of a Fifth Unit on a Laser or Inkjet Printer

First of all, if you run a graphic arts shop, you can use a printer like the OKI C941 to prototype everything from a folding carton for a new line of perfume to a static cling for a window. Specifically, by using the fifth unit for white ink, you can lay down a “ground” on a colored paper stock so the color of the paper will not alter the hues of the inks or toners printed on the darker paper.

In addition, by using the clear ink, you can flood coat a project in house, or you can spot coat only the text, so the words seem to jump off the page.

If you’re printing on clear film without a white background, the colors won’t pop. That is because the light hitting the film will just keep on going through the transparent media. Nothing will reflect the light back to the person viewing the signage. In contrast, by first printing a white background and then imaging the CMYK components of the artwork on top, you give the art far more reflectivity, so the colors appear more vibrant to the viewer. (You give the light hitting the signage a white surface to bounce off, so the light will be redirected back to the viewer.)

With a small printer like the OKI C941, you could put this into practice with bottle labels, for instance. Starting with clear bottle label film, you would first print white, and then follow up with the 4-color label art.

Or you could print white text on a darker colored press sheet, perhaps a gray or black sheet. The text in white toner would stand out in stark contrast to the darker substrate.

Further Implications of White Custom Printing

If you’re producing static clings for windows, a white-printing inkjet printer would be ideal for blocking the images on either side of the cling (i.e., printing a white base between the two images). This way, you could affix a static cling to a window and have one image facing into the interior of the building and another image facing out. Without an opaque white block between the two images, they would conflict with one another whenever light passed through the plastic sheet. In contrast, the light stopping power of the opaque white ink would completely separate one image from the other.

Custom screen printing on dark t-shirts would be another use for white ink (in this case white custom screen printing ink rather than toner or inkjet ink). By first adding a white ground over a black cotton or polyester fabric, you would provide a bright base onto which you would then overlay the additional colors.

I have seen white used in this way, and the colors printed over the base really jump out. You could also use the white as an additional color in a case like this (by itself; not as a ground). The fifth color would be as brilliant as the accompanying cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks on the darker t-shirt fabric.

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