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An Overview of the Different Screen Print Ink Mixing / Systems

There are many different types of screen print inks, but at the end of the day the process revolves around either “Spot Color Printing or “Process Printing”. Spot color printing accounts for over 90% of all screen printing and thus is the industry standard. Spot color printing means each color in a design must be printed individually using a specific print color. Process Printing revolves around using Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMYK) to print full color designs by bleeding just 4 colors together. So, because 90% of screen printing means each ink color must be printed one at a time a shop must have a container of each color of ink they offer. A screen print shop will typically have a color pallet of around 50 standard/stock colors, but the ability to mix custom colors is a very powerful tool. Screen print shops typically charge around $15 to mix a custom color for a customer. 

There are essentially 3 ways to mix plastisol screen print inks.

Old Fashion Mixing custom colors is just like how you do with acrylic paint. For example:  Blue + Yellow = Green; Red + Blue = Purple; White + Black = Grey. Creating custom colors by taking 2 or more colors is fun and easy, but can be very hard to create an exact color. This mixing process is often the cheapest way to mix a custom ink color and different shades of color can be achieved by adding white or black. 

Finished Ink Mixing System is similar to the old fashion process in that finished inks are mixed to create a color, but the ink manufacturer provides formulas of how much of each color should be used to mix an exact color. A finished ink mixing system is unique in that it allows for custom colors to be mixed or a color to be used straight out of the bucket. Screen print plastisol inks are available in many types. However, most print shops use one type of ink with the best combination of opacity, feel on the product, and ease of use to print with. A finished ink mixing system uses the most popular type of ink a manufacturer sells, which accounts for the majority of screen print orders, but not all. 

Pigment Mixing System is similar to a finished ink mixing system in that creating custom colors revolves around formulas provided by the manufacturer, but instead of using inks, pigments and bases are used to make custom colors. A pigment mixing system uses around 15-20 pigments that must be weighed to the hundredths of a gram using a high quality scale to create a custom color. The big advantage of a pigment ink mixing system over a finished is the fact that several different bases can be used to create custom colors of different types of ink by simply switching out bases. 

The most common ink mixing system bases revolve around a max opaque, fashion soft hand, performance low temperature, and 3D-Puff. So a print shop that has these 4 bases and an ink mixing system can make any color for 4 different types of inks/effects. The majority of screen print orders revolve around using a max opaque ink that can be used on 100% cotton and most blends of fabrics. A soft hand fashion ink does not have as much opacity as a max opaque ink, but the hand (feel) of the ink is much softer, which is often desired on some higher quality blend products. Performance low temperature ink is used to print onto 100% polyester, nylon, and other synthetic fabrics. Synthetic fabrics simply cannot take the high heat from a conveyor dryer like cotton, which is required to cure the ink. So in order to print synthetic fabrics like polyester a special low-temperature ink must be used. 3D Puff ink acts exactly what it sounds like, the ink has a 3-dimensional look and feel. Being able to print any 4 of these inks in any color allows a screen print shop to offer their customers more versatility than other shops as far as ink effects and color matching capabilities. 

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