This is a post I created for my previous blog, but since I’ve received good feedback, I’m posting it here as well. Enjoy!
I’ve found that color matching is one of the more difficult aspects of letterpress printing, so I’ve compiled what I’ve learned about mixing PANTONE colors to help you out!
Prior to mixing ink, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:
- Before you can even think about mixing a PANTONE color, you must have a squeaky clean press. Even the slightest trace of color from a previous run will alter the color that you labored to create.
- Another consideration prior to mixing is the color of the paper on which you’ll be printing. Letterpress ink is transparent by nature, so the color of the paper will affect how the ink appears to the human eye.
- You’ll need all of the colors necessary to create a PANTONE color. These are: Red 023; PANTONE Black; Blue 072; Green; Transparent White; Orange 021; Process Blue; Purple; Reflex Blue; Rhodamine Red; Rubine Red; Violet; Warm Red; Yellow; Printing Black; and Opaque White. I bought my set from Boxcar Press, and they should last for decades.
- One last pre-mixing consideration is that PANTONE ink formulas are meant for offset printing, not letterpress. In offset printing, a thin layer of ink is laid on the paper, whereas in letterpress, the ink is physically pressed into the paper. Therefore, letterpress lays down a thicker layer of ink than offset, but the ink itself is generally more transparent. What does all of this mean? I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but you’re not a machine, so you’re never going to have the perfect Pantone color…but it’ll be close!
Now that you’re aware of the pre-mixing considerations, let’s get to mixing some ink!
- First you need a scale. I bought an Ohaus scale off Amazon, it came highly recommended by a letterpress instructor from Railway Station Press, where I took a letterpress class a while back. This is an ideal scale because it measures small portions down to the decimal, and can be zero-ed out. I place a piece of aluminum foil on top of the scale so that I can measure the ink without ruining the scale, then zero it out. This way you’ll get an accurate reading on just the ink proportions.
- Refer to your PANTONE Uncoated Formula Guide for the color you’d like to create. Look for the “parts” that make up the color, that’s the text right below the swatch. For the purpose of mixing ink, substitute parts for grams.
- Start with any of the colors, skim the top of the ink and drop a dollop onto the foil. Keep adding or subtracting ink until you reach the parts/grams that you need. Scrape the ink off of the foil and onto a flat glass or granite surface, making sure to get every last bit! Repeat this process with each of the ink colors required to make your Pantone color.
- Once you’ve measured out all of the colors, use the glass or marble slab to mix with an ink knife (you can also use a putty knife). Scrape and mix thoroughly, and you’re done!
- I like to make my colors prior to printing, so I scoop them into airtight containers, using masking tape around the edges for extra protection. Since I have the memory of a hamster, I write the PANTONE color on a mailing label and stick it to the container so that future me has the option of looking it up, and there you have it! PANTONE letterpress ink.
1. Choose your PANTONE color. I chose PANTONE 207U because I’d like to print my “Hip Heart You” cards to be a perfect match with some deep red envelopes that I have on hand. 207U was about as close as it gets!
2. Measure your ink substituting grams for parts. I started with 14 grams of PANTONE Rubine Red
5. And here it is, PANTONE 207U…ready for printing!