Ink Mixing and Matching
Tools of the trade for screen printers
Color matching at its best involves both art and science. When a customer demands a quick turnaround requiring a custom color match, it’s important that you have the tools at hand to recreate the desired color using both skill and science. In this article, we ask a cross-section of suppliers about what‘s available for ink mixing/matching/dispensing.
Assessing the task at hand
Printers are confronted with many difficulties when mixing custom colors with plastisol ink, says Morgan Young, a tech-support specialist at Lancer Group Int’l. The most important question is: How does a printer reproduce Pantone shades exactly?
In the past, many printers mixed colors by eye, but human eyes see color differently. What we see depends on the substrate, the available light (pointing to a need for a light box when matching colors), ink density, the printer’s color-vision acuity, and other factors. Printers would start out with a similar color matched to a Pantone numbered print and then tweak it with black, white, and other colors. It was time-consuming and based on trial-and-error. The printer would end up with an excess of mismatched, wasted ink.
Most major ink companies offer a color-matching system, and this includes a formulation guide to reproducing Pantone colors. But custom colors, unlike standard Pantone colors, require a little more expertise to create accurately. Kent Hudson, national sale manager at International Coatings Company, explains that a basic understanding of color theory is needed just to begin the process. He says all colors can be created from primary red, blue, and yellow; tinting and shading are done with white and black; and secondary colors represent a mix between the primaries: purple, green, and orange.
You can use a simple color wheel to determine color opposites, which make colors look dirty. For example, red and yellow make orange; yellow and blue make green. If you mix green and orange, you come up with brown.
The basic tools
Pantone formula guides are commonly used by designers, prepress professionals, and printers alike. Some suppliers suggest replacing these guides annually, because colors in the printed format tend to turn yellow over time. A light box provides lighting in a controlled environment for viewing custom colors and displaying possible matches in daylight, fluorescent, and incandescent light conditions.
Who supplies what to whom?
Most ink providers have a system for matching custom colors. The following represents a sampling of companies that provide tools and consumables for color matching.
Amerigraph offers AdVantage scales that come standard with stainless-steel platforms to hold standard ink-dispensing buckets. Models have dual AC and rechargeable batteries and come with an RS232 data port. Model B1200.01 has a capacity of 1200 g with 0.01-g resolution for sample batches. Model WV6000.1 has a capacity of 6000 g with similar resolution. Its 9 x 12-in. stainless-steel pan is designed to accommodate 1-gal mixing buckets. Model FW30Vk.5 has a capacity of 30 kg with 0.5-g resolution.
The company’s ink pumps are designed for use with plastisol inks specifically for the screen printing industry. Available in 1- and 5-gal sizes, the 1-gal units are available to fit a particular ink manufacturer’s container. Amerigraph also offers dispensing systems that work with Rutland and Wilflex mixing systems.
Spindex 106M2 features foot-control latch operation, independent rotating carousels (ten for 1-gal; six for five-gal containers) and is designed to be used with Rutland mixing systems. Spindex 141MX is a two-tiered rotating carousel for 14 1-gal containers and a docking cart for 5-gal containers. Model 142PC is for the Wilflex system and has 14 1-gal pumps and two 5-gal pumps on the system.
FUJIFILM Sericol USA, Inc. has developed a complete package of inks, scales, dispensers, and software (Figure 1). The ColorSense computer-and-scale system retains formulas and instructs the user how much by weight of each component to pour into the mix. The ColorSense IMS (automated ink-management system), was developed specifically for use in the markets served by FUJIFILM Sericol. It includes a spectrophotometer option that recommends an initial formula when read from a color chip provided by the customer. If any adjustments need to be made to the formula, the software will retain the changes and save the final formula for future use. The software also provides ink-inventory management, including suggestions for working with excess inks left over from prior jobs.
International Coatings Corp. (ICC) provides a Web-based color-formulation tool (Figure 2) for use with their inks, which provides simulated Pantone color formula values for their Ultramix color-mixing ink series: Ultramix 7400 color system, Ultramix 7900 low-cure color system, and the Ultramix 9000. Printers can use the CD version or the online color formula guide. Printers can also use the site to calculate ink usage, project pricing, and create and store custom formulas in an online library. ICC also has specialty bases and additives for creating a variety of effects: puff, suede, stretch, hot-split transfer, and foil resist.
Lancer Group Int’l has developed two systems for matching colors using plastisol ink. ColorPro uses the Pantone mixing formulas, 11 finished plastisol inks, and a software package. “Printers can access, from within the computer program, formulas to make any color described in the Pantone library except fluorescents and metallic,” says Morgan Young, international and Canadian sales.
The software calculates the am-ount of ink needed for each print run. Users input the PMS color number, mesh count, the number of pieces, and size of the design in square inches. The related software (ColormatePro) then calculates a formula for producing the approximate amount needed for the job at hand. Each component is weighed, placed into a container, and stirred. The system is available in different ink types: athletic, transfer, direct print, nylon, water-based, and PVC-free.
Marabu offers a variety of software and hardware for color matching. The MCDμ (Figure 3), shown for the first time at SGIA 2009, is an automated dispensing system designed for budget-conscious shops. The company’s ColorDispenser Compact holds and dispenses ink and is controlled by ColorManager software. It has 14 full-size stainless-steel tanks, accommodates various container sizes, and can be adapted to drum-based systems.
The ColorManager MCM 2 allows for formulas to be downloaded directly from the Marabu server; however, it does not allow storing of a user’s unique color-matching formula, or modifying existing formulas.
“The full MCM version is available in a standalone version to be connected to a precision scale allowing additional features, such as ink consumption calculation and storing of own formulas,” says Friedrich Goldner, director of marketing.
ColorManager MCM V.2.3, full version, allows database formulations for Pantone, HKS, and RAL color systems calculated in liters or kilos.
ColorFormulator MCF comprises a spectrophotometer (either portable or stationary) with software and database designed for screen and pad printing. With this tool you measure the original, preselect the substrate, ink-film thickness, opacity and basic shades, and calculate this into numbers and save the formula in the printer’s own database. The spectrophotometer reads match colors and the added information helps optimize a formula to remove variation.
MixMasters, Inc., offers The MixMaster, Jr. 2.0 for making any color in the Pantone guide. MixMaster 4.0 allows for Pantone formulations as well as adding new custom color formulations with as many as 15 ingredients to be added to the database. 4.0 includes tracking cost of inventory, estimating ink requirements, sharing of data, automatic recycling of inks from inventory each time a printer makes a batch.
Nazdar supplies ink-management software systems under the name ColorStar (Figure 4).
“We have three levels,” says Roger Jensen, color-management technician. “The basic system (ColorStar Pro 2.0) has all of our Pantone formulas in all of our ink lines that contain a Pantone ink-matching series. This software allows for creation and storage of custom formulas, as well as the scaling to any batch size in both U.S. and metric weights or volumes. The ColorStar Manager builds on the basic software with inventory control and tracking.”
ColorStar Manager also features job costing, production control, and several reporting functions. The CheckWeigh System has the functions of the other two programs, but it also features complete PC hardware and a Mettler-Toledo scale. The software adjusts for overweighs and recalculates the ink amounts for the corrections.
PolyOne Corp.’s mixing technologies are geared to creating custom ink colors using the company’s Wilflex ink products. Wilflex has three color mixing systems: the MX system (finished ink), the Equalizer system (hybrid colorant and base), and the PC Express (original pigment and base system). Built for use with the company’s color mixing systems and ink-management software (IMS), which is free as a download from their Website. IMS is also available packaged with the ink-mixing-system starter kit. IMS formulas are for standard coated and uncoated Pantone simulations using plastisol mixing systems. IMS provides formulas, forecasts ink usage, creates and stores job specs, prints multiple formulas as reports or labels, does VOC reporting, and can be linked to a scale—the company’s Sartorious (7500-g capacity) or AccuLab (1500-g capacity), for example.
A user accesses the IMS software from the company’s web site or from a disc. Once installed, the user sets up individual preferences by going to Tools, User Set Up. Next preferences are saved. By selecting a PMS-numbered formula from the specific mixing system, amounts are pre-determined. It also allows for customized formulas to meet production color match specifications. Volumes are specified in grams, kilograms, and gallons.
The company also offers the DispenseMaster 4 (Figure 5), an automatic dispensing system used to create quart, gallon, or 5-gal quantities of custom inks. It mixes colors, controls ink inventory, and supports a color palette with customized formulas.
Rutland Plastic Technologies, Inc. supplies the M2007 Ink Mixing Software, which features 42,000 recipes for Pantone, major brand colors, and stock colors, says Tony Chapman, Rutland’s director of technical services. The latest version of M2007 is 1.6. It has all of Rutland’s environmental ink series, including all Claira and WB-99 formulations. If the color you are matching isn’t in the list, simply add a name, description, and formula for reproducing it in the M2007 software. Price, VOC, and density, and the maximum allowed are calculated automatically based on the ingredients and amounts chosen.
VALE-TECH offers the Integra 2, an ink-mixing station that comes with a solid-state PC, solvent-resistant polyester keypad, TFT monitor, and a scale. Features include scale self-calibration, base-color and recipe management, recipe creation and editing, overweigh recalculation, blend re-works, job-usage reporting, batch-number traceability, and more. Its operating software runs on a Windows platform and is available in 12 languages.
Bring the right tools into the mix
The difference between an acceptable print job and one that delights a customer often relies on the skill of the printer; therefore, any tool that improves a printer’s color-matching capability—whether the latest software, an up-to-date PMS matching book, a spectrophotometer, or automated mixing/dispensing system—and any science that can help control subjectivity will improve the process of custom color matching.