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Archive for the ‘Inks’ Category

Custom Printing: Printing Ink, and Food

Monday, June 25th, 2018

You might assume that all commercial printing ink is the same. In fact, both the composition and use of printing ink involve a lot of nuances.

For now, let’s start with two general rules to keep in mind. Printing inks differ depending on the equipment in which they will be used and on the intended use of the printed product.

The technology with which ink will be applied might include offset printing and digital printing, for instance.

Offset lithography “works” because oil and water repel each other. (You can test this for yourself by pouring both water and olive oil into a glass.)

Offset printing ink is an oily substance that is chemically produced to seek the image areas of a printing plate while avoiding the non-image areas, which are coated with water. In an offset printing press, a delicate balance between ink and water allows this to happen.

Only because of this law of chemistry (i.e., the fact that ink and water repel each another) can a commercial printing supplier use printing plates on which the image area and non-image area are both on the same level. (That is, they are neither raised above the surface of the plate, as in relief printing processes such as letterpress, nor recessed below the surface of the plate, as in fine arts intaglio printing.) And only because of the oily nature of offset lithographic printing ink does this process work.

In contrast to the inks used in offset lithography (both in commercial printing and in fine arts printing), the ink in your desktop inkjet printer is water based. The process does not depend on flat (planographic) plates or an oil/water balance. You merely spray the ink onto the substrate through nozzles on your inkjet printer. The process is exactly the same if the inkjet printer in question is a large format inkjet press used to decorate corrugated board and folding cartons.

Food Inks and Toxicity

Inkjet printing is becoming the method of choice for a lot of custom printing these days, including corrugated cartons, flexible packaging, and folding cartons. You can Google these terms for precise descriptions, but for the sake of argument, these are the categories of packaging, and, as noted in prior blog entries, packaging is one of the hottest markets for commercial printing in general and digital printing in particular.

For makeup cartons, presumably, there is little concern about the toxicity of the inks, as long as the product is not ingested and as long as the makeup comes in glass or plastic tubes and bottles contained in the cartons. But for food products that will come into contact with product packaging, it is of vital importance that no toxic chemicals migrate (the technical term) from the printed container or packaging into the food.

There are numerous requirements and specifications for such custom printing inks, and organizations such as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) publish these requirements for packaging companies and ink manufacturers. Other organizations, such as Intertek (in London), test the inks and certify them as conforming to the safety standards.

HP PageWide Inks

With the preceding information in mind, I received an article from a friend and colleague noting that HP’s T1100 and C500 PageWide presses (and particularly their ink configurations) had been passed by Intertek as being food safe for use in printing corrugated cartons. More specifically, according to the press release from HP, Intertek certified HP as the “first supplier to fulfill the Intertek Guidelines for the Safe Use of Printing Inks” (“Intertek Develops Guidelines for Safe Use of Printing Inks,” HP, 6/20/18).

This is relevant for a number of reasons:

  1. HP’s large format digital inkjet printing presses and their inksets have been blessed by a respected standards and testing organization as being food safe.
  2. Package printing is a growing sector of commercial printing, and HP is a major player in this arena.
  3. In terms of marketing, Intertek’s blessing highlights HP as a trusted vendor. This approval will aid greatly in HP’s potential dominance of package printing.
  4. As the first vendor to receive this approval from Intertek, HP has a head start towards becoming the supplier of choice for digital inkjet package printing equipment and also for printing inks (these are not the same thing).
  5. Intertek’s approval was based on printed samples provided by HP using its proprietary water-based digital printing inks. To quote from the press release, “Intertek conducted detailed laboratory tests on these prints to measure migration limits and ensure safety requirements in accordance with global regulatory and industry guidance, including Swiss Ordinance, Nestle Guidance, FDA, EU Framework, and others” (“Intertek Develops Guidelines for Safe Use of Printing Inks,” HP, 6/20/18).
  6. The specific approval granted by Intertek notes compliance for “printing primary and secondary corrugated packaging, which requires no additional barriers” (“Intertek Develops Guidelines for Safe Use of Printing Inks,” HP, 6/20/18). To put this in context, when you open a box of cereal, you reach in and take out a clear plastic bag containing the flakes or chips. The purpose of this bag is not only to keep all of the cereal from spilling out. It also keeps the food away from the ink (on the outside of the chipboard folding carton).
  7. Intertek and similar organizations also test for NIAS. This means “non-intentionally added substances.” What this implies is that when you’re making or printing ink, you don’t always know what other chemicals are produced, whether they are toxic, and whether they will migrate into the food. Therefore, this has to be tested and controlled.

What This Means to You

Mostly I think this is interesting rather than directly pertinent to a designer or print buyer. But it does mean that the closer you get to the supplier, the more important ink certifications will be. If you’re a printer, for instance, you want to make sure all of your inks are appropriate and acceptable, not only for the equipment you’re using but also for the end product, based on its use, and particularly if you’re producing packaging materials that will contain food.

Another thing to consider is that not all inks are the same. Not only are some more appropriate for certain printing technologies (for instance, offset lithography, flexography, thermography, gravure, digital inkjet printing, screen printing, letterpress…), but the final use of the printed materials makes a difference. If a printed product touches food, it has to be safe.

Custom Printing: Expanded Ink Sets for Offset Printing

Monday, November 14th, 2016

As Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr once said, “The more things change the more they stay the same.”

In the case of custom printing this definitely holds true. I was amused to see (when I was reading “Key Themes at drupa 2016 Bring Industry 4.0 to the Forefront” by Cary Sherburne, 6/27/16, on that “fixed color palette printing” was one of the major trends in commercial printing.

The reason I found it amusing was that I had seen essentially the same (or perhaps similar) technology when I was an art director in the 1990s. Then I thought the concept was intriguing; now I’m pleased to see its return.

The Science Behind Color on Press

When you produce a job on an offset press you have a few options for adding color:

  1. You can add no additional color. That is, you can print the job in black ink only, or with additional screens of black (i.e., gray).
  2. You can print the job using the four process color inks (i.e., cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). By overlaying halftone screens of the four transparent process color inks, you can simulate a large range of hues.
  3. If you cannot quite match your chosen color with a process color build, you can add one or more PMS inks. These are special colors mixed by ink companies or in-house ink specialists. You print a PMS color using one of the inking units on press rather than simulate the color by overlapping transparent screens of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink.

The problem is that you just can’t simulate all of the possible colors within the PMS color gamut using only cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink. If your corporate logo color (for instance) has to be an exact match, you often need to add a PMS color to your CMYK (process color) ink set to make the match. (You can also use an additional “touch plate” of a PMS match color–say a deep blue–to enhance an offset litho reproduction of a fine art piece, or an intensely colored fashion, food, or automotive poster.)

The reason adding additional colors is problematic is that you need a larger press with more inking units (perhaps five or eight units rather than four). And this will raise the commercial printing price of your job.

From the point of view of the printer, shifting a press ink configuration from four colors to 4CP plus additional PMS colors can be time and labor intensive as well, because he will need to wash up the ink units to change the ink configuration. This will take time, so he will lose money (or need to raise his price).

The Idea Behind “Fixed Color Palette Printing”

To remedy these problems, ink companies have been working on expanded color sets—for a long time.

Back in the 1990s when I was an art director, one company I worked with added orange and green to the four process colors and called the result “Hexachrome” (apparently this became a Pantone-trademarked process). Another company had a version of the process they called “high-fidelity color.” Back then, the goal was to create the widest possible color gamut and match the most PMS colors. Saving money on wash-ups seemed to be less of an issue.

Now, according to “Key Themes at drupa 2016 Bring Industry 4.0 to the Forefront” by Cary Sherburne, the technology is back, known as “fixed color palette printing” or “extended gamut printing.” To quote from Sherbourne’s article describing the fixed-color offerings shown at drupa, “Companies including X-Rite Pantone, Esko, Asahi Photoproducts, Kodak, Heidelberg and more shared thoughts and solutions about this process printing technique using up to seven colors (CMYK plus orange, violet and green or blue) that enables more than 90% of Pantone colors to be achieved.”

What This Means: The Implications for Customers and Printers

Here are some thoughts:

  1. First of all, it’s interesting to note that between my experience of Hexachrome or Hi-Fidelity Color in the ’90s and the present moment, we have had a huge improvement in digital custom printing. For many years I have seen inkjet presses with “extended color sets.” That is, in order to expand the number of colors a large-format inkjet press can produce, manufacturers have added light versions of cyan and magenta; different black inks; orange and green; or red, green, and blue inks to the usual cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. In other words, by adding these colors (and creating a seven- or eight-color ink set), inkjet press manufacturers have dramatically enhanced color reproduction capabilities in large-format inkjet presses.
  2. The trend toward bringing this color management technique back to offset lithography and flexography tells me that the more traditional press manufacturers are trying to stay relevant by addressing the customer’s need for more accurate color.
  3. Moreover, a printer running presses with a fixed color palette can avoid extra wash ups and also gang together a number of jobs on press. In the past, with some jobs printing in process colors and other jobs printing in black plus one or more PMS colors, it was usually not possible to lay out a number of different customers’ jobs on the same press sheet. With fixed color palette printing, as long as all customers’ jobs are on the same paper stock (which is conceivable: say a 70# white gloss sheet), the only major determinants as to whether the jobs could be ganged up would be the dimensions of the jobs and the available room on the press sheet.
  4. Custom printing multiple jobs simultaneously and avoiding wash-ups by always using the same inksets will save the printers money and time. Quicker make-readies and ganged jobs will reduce the use of expensive materials, speed up the printing process, and therefore make offset printing more competitive with digital printing for shorter press runs. And for longer print jobs with no personalization, there will be a market demand for which offset lithography and flexography will still be the most cost-effective solutions.

Commercial Printing: Uses for White Ink and Toner

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

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.

Custom Printing: New Marabu Inks for Inkjet Printing

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

When you think about it, an inkjet printer is only as good as the inks it prints.

I just read an article in PackagingEurope (11/18/13, at, called “Marabu at Viscom 2013”) describing Marabu’s new ink offerings as presented at Viscom 2013, a noted visual communications trade show held in Dusseldorf, Germany, in early November.

The offerings included UV-LED-curable, solvent-based, and water-based inkjet inks as well as liquid coatings and a solvent-based silver ink.

Here are some of the specifics, including the implications of such new developments for inkjet large format printing.

UV-LED-Curable Inks

As you may know, UV light will cure various inks and coatings. The radiation of the light actually changes the chemical composition of the inks rather than drying them. Inks or coatings (such as flood UV coating used for protection) harden instantly upon exposure to the UV light. UV inks are particularly useful for large format inkjet printing on acrylics, PVC, polycarbonates, and polypropylene, since these substrates are not porous.

That said, UV lights are hot, and the lamps burn out. In contrast, UV-LED-curable inks benefit from much longer-life UV lamps that expose the custom printing substrates to less heat. Marabu’s offerings in this arena include UltraJet DLE ink.

Traditional UV-Curable Inks

The PackagingEurope article also highlighted traditional UV-curable inks (UltraJet DUV) from Marabu that work well on rigid materials (UltraJet DUV-R) such as PVC, polystyrene, polycarbonate, and cardboard, as well as on flexible materials (UltraJet DUV-F) such as self-adhesive film and PVC banner material.

What makes this noteworthy is that flexible substrates printed with this Marabu inkjet ink retain their flexibility (i.e., the substrates are still soft after being printed).

Multi-Use Silver Solvent-Based Ink

At Viscom, Marabu also showcased its MaraJet DI-MS 191 Silver ink. What makes this noteworthy is that in conjunction with other solvent inks, this silver ink can produce “hundreds of different metallic shades.” (“Marabu at Viscom 2013”) This opens up a multitude of design options for large format printing on appropriate papers, uncoated fabrics, and PVC films.

A Coating Alternative to Film Lamination

Marabu displayed both a UV-curable and water based coating technology (Marashield UV and Marashield WA, respectively) that will offer lower application and materials costs than traditional film lamination while maintaining a high gloss surface and consistent surface quality.

In addition, the water-based option (Marashield WA-FXG) can be applied over metallics, improving rub resistance without dulling down the metallic sheen of the inks.

Water-Based and Textile Inks

At Viscom, Marabu also displayed their water-based options (such as MaquaJet DA-E for printing on thin and sensitive materials) and textile sublimation ink such as TexaJet DX-SHE for both direct printing and transfer printing on pretreated polyester materials containing more than 60 percent polyester.

Why You Should Care

A quick perusal of Marabu’s new inkjet inks will yield invaluable information to designers, providing a snapshot of current trends in packaging design, large format printing, and textile custom printing. This is what I gleaned from the article:

  1. Digital custom printing is expanding at a remarkable rate.
  2. Packaging and textile printing are big, as evidenced by Marabu’s newly formulated inks for these printing arenas. While books, newspapers, and magazines may struggle, packaging and textile custom printing are growing.
  3. The shift from traditional UV curing to UV-LED curing of inkjet inks will most certainly reduce energy consumption and lengthen inkjet printing materials’ lifespan going forward, due to the reduced heat given off by the UV-LED lamps. This is technology to watch closely.
  4. The comment in the PackagingEurope article referencing the “flexibility of substrates” printed with Marabu traditional UV-curable inks highlights the fact that inkjet printing does not need to make a soft substrate hard and inflexible. I’m thinking about the future of printed textiles, in which a “soft hand” is desirable (i.e., textile custom printing that doesn’t feel like it has a film of ink on it).

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