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Color-Matching Ink Systems from the Ground Up

(February 2007) posted on Thu Feb 22, 2007

Discover what types of mixing systems are available, how to use them, and where you can get them.

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By Thomas Trimingham

The next step is to compare the final ink in the bucket to the color sample that you're trying to match (Figure 3). If the result appears to be very close to the sample color, it is a good idea to do a quick drawdown (actual print on T-shirt fabric) of the color and send it through the dryer to insure that the screen mesh and the curing process don't alter the color significantly from the wet version. Useful items to have for quick drawdowns include small screens, about 10 x 10 in., of different meshes and little squeegees of different durometers that can be quickly laid onto fabric samples and used to print color swatches. If all works as planned, the colors will look the way they should—but this isn't always the case.


What happens when the Pantone color that you mixed doesn't accurately simulate the color in the sample? Start with the basics. View the color in the proper lighting and try to determine whether the current mix was properly prepared. A common problem, especially when color matching with smaller amounts of inks, stems from the use of a really strong pigment or ink. A tiny amount of black or white, often just a drop, will totally alter the color of an ink.

First, double check the current mix and resample it to rule out a mixing error. If the next mix exhibits the same problem, then look at the color and determine whether it's off in value, hue, or saturation. Ink that is off in hue is the easiest to fix. A small amount of ink of the right hue can bump the color in the right direction. Just look carefully at the hue and determine which color would correct it. Make small additions to the mix to slowly move the color to the correct level. Remember that small corrections are always better in ink mixing. If you overshoot the target with a big change, you'll have to scrap the ink.

Ink that appears to be off in value or saturation is more difficult to adjust. Sometimes your best bet is to start over with a different set of colors when you note a dramatic difference in value in the mixed ink. Only rarely does the addition of black or white change shade or tint without damaging saturation (colors will appear washed out or really dirty, rather than deeper or lighter).

Finally, using a Pantone mix that appears slightly deeper or richer than the color needed, and slowly adding a lighter color or white to back it down to a close simulation, can be a good solution when dealing with a really bizarre hue, a match to a fabric sample, or an item that has different reflective properties from the printed ink.

Mix and match

The proper use of a color-matching system can save the average screen printer a significant amount of time and trouble. You just have to find the right system—one that matches the type of work that you commonly handle—and identify a supplier that can service you well. Efficiency results from accuracy and good recordkeeping in the ink-mixing area, as well as proper testing as part of the matching process for any job. By sticking to this organized procedure for color matching, you'll be rewarded with colors that are on target and presses that can roll.

About the author

Thomas Trimingham is an award-winning art director, illustrator, and separator who has more than 16 years of experience in the screen-printing industry. He can be reached at



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