C-M-Y Stop There? Time to Think About White Ink

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What’s all the hype behind “white ink technology” you ask? Well nothing really, unless you’ve been a designer or printer anytime in the past few decades. Until late last year a request to print any light color ink on a darker hued substrate may have been met with discouraging budget mumbo jumbo from any printer around the world. Sure there were ways, but your options were slim. Whether you chose to go the foil stamping route, silkscreen, or even vinyl transfers, your options added extra production, and of course, added costs that would more than likely hemorrhage your budget.

Unlike silkscreen where white ink is readily available, traditional offset printing inks are made with a translucent base, eliminating any possibility for a true white ink. The appearance of white ink could be achieved on press by imprinting multiple layers of an opaque ink. This process however requires multiple passes of each press sheet, making registration almost impossible, with less than desirable final results.

In the last year, Epson, Roland and Hewlett Packard have all shown their commitment to bridging the gap between form and function. The most accessible is the HP Indigo 5500 digital print press. Although toner based, HP Indigo has become a household name in the design community. They’ve certainly shown their commitment to the creative industry by being the first digital press manufacturer to produce a white opaque ink option.

I was lucky enough to see the HP Indigo 5500 in action. At first glance, the white appeared more grey rather than a true white ink on the dark substrate, but Eric Zirbel, Solutions Architect at Hewlett-Packard explained, “multiple impressions can be made during the same pass to achieve the accurate color and avoid any shifting of the paper.” My jaw dropped as Eric–with one click of the mouse–entered the number of times he wanted the white to lay down on the sheet. Sure enough, the next sheet to come off the press was–to say the least–impressive! Eric explained, “our white ink will allow designers and printers to expand into a one stop shop by going after new verticals including packaging. It will also provide an easier solution for foil jobs.”

Sharing in the excitement was AIGA LA president Jimmy Moss, “being able to print with white ink enables designers to expand the visual language. It’s the same concept, but with different technology which opens up possibility and is really freakin’ cool!”

I shared the same sentiment. The days of flipping through swatch books, only to stop as the swatches got darker are now over. Designers can finally take advantage of countless creative possibilities. Before you do, remember new technology comes with new obstacles. Here are a few things to consider before going to press.

  • In some cases you’ll need to lay down 5-7 passes of white ink before it’s actually white, especially if the paper is very dark. More impressions usually means more money.

  • Multiple impressions on thin lines or small or thin fonts can cause registration nightmares. Be sure to talk to your printer about small or thin elements that would require multiple impressions. It’s much easier–and less expensive–to address problems during pre-press.

  • The smoother the paper, the better the print. Digital print presses love smooth paper. You’ll have plenty of options, paper manufacturers are bursting at the seams with digital approved paper stocks.

  • Watch your weight. Although designers love thick paper, digital presses don’t. They usually max out at about 130# cover.

Now that you know what your up against, maybe it’s time to revisit your swatch books. Enjoy some of my favorite colored stocks, all suitable for a digital press with white ink capabilities.

  • Environment “Desert Storm,” 120# cover by Neenah Paper (FSC Cert. 100% PCW)

  • Sundance “Smokey Blue,” Felt Finish, 110# cover by Neenah Paper (FSC Cert.)

  • Classic Crest “Epic Black,” 130# cover by Neenah Paper (FSC Cert.)

  • Loop “Urban Grey,” Antique Vellum, 110# double thick cover by Mohawk Paper (FSC Cert. 50% PCW)

  • Savanna “Bubinga,” 111 # cover by Gmund

  • Bier “Ale,” 92# cover by Gmund