Printing Ink 101: Why Reflex Blue makes people CRAZY!

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Mar 02, 2012 @ 12:35 PM

Here’s a simple “fun” fact about printing: Printers CRINGE at projects with dark blue ink!

“Why?” you ask.  True simple words: REFLEX BLUE

Colbalt is one mineral that keeps Reflex Blue from drying.In a previous blog post, Spot Color vs Process Color, we talked about the 14 Pantone mixing inks that are used to build all other Pantone colors.  One of these colors is Reflex Blue, which is a color best described as a deep blue-violet hue.  It’s much richer than its closest mixing ink, Blue 072.  Reflex Blue gets its rich color from a family of pigments referred to as Alkali Blue pigments, which includes the mineral cobalt.  These mineral are VERY strong in color, and give Reflex Blue it’s rich deep hue.  But like most of other alkaline minerals (like limestone and soapstone) they are very porous, even at the granular level. In short, the thing that makes Reflex Blue look like Reflex Blue, are minerals that act like lil mini sponges.

So… for those not familiar with printing, the process is best described as a balancing act!   All press operators are constantly juggling 4 parts:

Image (generally on a metal or polyester plate)

Ink (the liquid, oil-based color that’s being printed)

Water (pH specific water and other additives to aid with conductivity, release, and drying,
typically called “Fountain Solution”)

Paper (the text or cover stock you’re running, along with its thickness and finish.)

Once the ink is transferred onto the paper, it’s very wet and easily smudged or smeared. Before it can be handled, or even printed on the second site, the ink needs time to dry.  Certain colors dry faster. Generally lighter colors will dry very quickly, darker colors take a bit longer. And then there’s our good, old-faithful Reflex Blue:  Remember all those lil mini sponges that make it such a great color?  Yes… these also work VERY hard against the drying process, Depending on the surface of the stock, and the amount of coverage, there are some experts that will say Reflex Blue NEVER really fully dries.

Wait… there’s more!

We got the blues!For any of you that are lucky enough to have a Pantone book, you may notice that most of them have mixing formulas.  Let’s look at a very standard Royal Blue color: Pantone 286. The formula for mixing that is 25% Process Blue and 75% Reflex Blue. As a result, it’s going to take a while to dry. Compare that to Pantone 2747, which appears to be a darker, deeper navy blue. That formula is about 94% Blue 072 and 6% Black NO REFLEX! A slightly different set of minerals allow this color, which appears deeper, to actually dry faster.  Strange, indeed!

Why does this matter? 

It’s important to know at the design and project planning stage what inks you’re dealing with.  If you or your clients have their hearts set on an ink made with Reflex Blue, you may want to consider a coating or varnish option to help with handling the finished pieces.  You also may need to factor in additional production time into the printing of the piece.


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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.


Tags: printing, graphic design, commercial printing, offset printing, G7

Where Do Pocket Folders Come From?

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Oct 28, 2011 @ 12:45 PM

Pocket folders are a great way to package and present a variety of materials to your intended audience; whether it’s documents, inserts, CD/DVDs, brochures, booklets, or other items.  One of the appeals of pocket folders is their ability to cost effectively enhance your brand or message, since they can be custom printed and produced fairly econimically.

Pocket Folder IconIt’s surprising though, how many people use, see, feel, and possess pocket folders, but have no clue how they are made!  “Do you have a template?” is a common question we’re asked all the time.  To the right is a diagram showing the basic layout of the print-side of a pocket folder.  Click the diagram to download a PDF for you to use in whatever graphic design program you have available.

If all you wanted was the PDF, then congratulations – you’re done!  BUT if you REALLY want to know more about the pieces and parts or a pocket folder, feel free to keep reading.


Anatomy of a Pocket Folder

Front & Back Panels/Covers:  In a “standard” pocket folder, these each measure 9" wide and 12" tall.  They are positioned side-by-side along a common folded edge called the “spine.”  Occasionally, one might add a “gusset” by adding a double score-line; separating the front and back panels 1/8" or more.  In these cases, you should remember that your pockets may require gussets as well.  Generally speaking, the gusset of the spine should be at least the sum of the gusset for each pocket.  (i.e., two 1/8" gusseted pockets would require a minimum 1/4" gusset for the spine.)

Pockets: With a 9"x 12" pocket folder, the standard pocket size is 9" wide and 4" tall. They are printed on the same side as the Front and Back Covers and fold up from the bottom.  When laying out your piece, remember to rotate the artwork 180° so it will be properly oriented on the finished folder.  Most die-lines for pockets include a V-notch along the middle to accommodate inserted materials, allowing the folder to properly close. The exactly position and angle of these notches can vary, so if you need "critical position" you may want to consult your print vendor.

NOTE: While a 4" pocket is standard, printers sometimes have access to other “standing die-lines” for things like vertical pockets or rounded pockets.  Check with your Sales Representative to see what other options are available without needing to spend extra money on a custom die-line. 

Glue Tabs:  Most pocket folders have "glued pockets" which are closed on one side by using "tabs." The tabs are created from extra cardstock extended from the Front or Back Cover, as shown in our diagram.  The tabs are cut with on a diagonal at the top and bottom, and scored along the face edge of the finished piece.  Measuring 1/2" to 3/4", you will want continue your image bleed across the score line, just as you would for any other bleed edge.   This will be covered by the actual pocket, but will hide any issues arising from bounce or misregistration anywhere along the manufacturing process.

Pocket Slits:  Pockets may have various slits cut into them to hold an assortment of additional materials.  The most common of these are Business Card slits; which allow a business card to be presented with the finished packet.  Typically these are created as 2 diagonal slits cut into the pocket on opposite corners of where the business card would go, although it’s not uncommon to see 4 slits (1 in each corner).  Round semi-circle (or half-moon) slits are sometimes used as well, either in the corners, or along the top and bottom of the positioned card.   Long horizontal barbell-style slits or rounded bar slits are also sometimes cut into the top edge of a pocket to hold CD/DVD sleeves or tri-fold brochures.

While this article only covers the most common pocket folder layouts, there are ENDLESS possibilities of standard or custom options available.   Feel free to contact any of our helpful and courteous Designers or Sales Representativesfor more information about what types of folders might be helpful to your company or organization.



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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.


Tags: printing, graphic design, Adobe InDesign tips, tips and tricks, printing services

Understanding Paper Weight... Mysteries Revealed!

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Jun 17, 2011 @ 02:27 PM

A few months ago we posted a 2-part Blog about Choosing the Right Paper but we still get a lot of questions about one VERY confusing topic:  Paper Weight and Thickness.

FACT: It’s complicated!

ANOTHER FACT:  It’s complicated for NO GOOD REASON!

Don’t feel bad if it doesn’t make sense.  There’s nothing wrong with you…  it’s just that there are a lot of terms used in the world of paper. Some of them mean the same thing, and some of them don’t.  But here’s the good news!  Universal Printing is FILLED with people who love paper, know paper, understand paper, and deal with paper DAILY; and we’re more than happy to share anything we know about it with YOU!

Paper Weight Comparison Chart

Here’s a handy-dandy comparison chart to help you figure which paper weights are equivalent.

Universal Printing's Paper Weights Chart 

Dying to know more?

For the sake of this blog, we’re not going to talk about color, shade, texture, finish, or anything else like that.  We’re JUST talking about weight and thickness.  But to start, we’ll break it down to 2 main categories:

“Regular” Paper




Weight and Thickness are DIFFERENT

The different classes of text or cover each come with their own “weight” determined by Basis Weight.  Basis Weight is the weight of 500 sheets, at the base size for that type of stock.  Bond or Writing paper has a Base Size of 17” x 22”, so if 500 sheets weighs 20lbs than it’s called 20# Bond or 20# Writing no matter what size it’s cut down to.  Offset and Text sheets have a Base Size of 25” x 38”, so if 500 sheets at that size weighs 50lbs, than it’s called 50# Offset or 50# Text.

You’ll notice, that in our comparison chart further down, the 20# Bond and 50# Offset are the same thickness, which now makes perfect sense, because the Base Size of Offset is over double the size for Bond… so the Basis Weight for Offset will also be more than twice the weight of Bond.

GSM – Grams per Square Meter

Whether you’re familiar with the metrics system or not, you probably know that it one of the principles is to keep the math simple and make all things equal.  GSM is the metric systems classification for paper, because they don’t care about how it’s made or what it’s used for. They just want to know a simple way to determine volume.  So one sheet of these same papers (20# Bond or 50# Offset) cut to 1 meter x 1 meter, will weigh 75 grams  (which is 75gsm…  grams per square meter).  Again, this isn’t a measure of thickness…. but generally speaking, the more grammage a single sheet has at a fixed size the more density it has, which often relates to thickness of the sheet (but can also involve bulk and manufacturing process).

Again… it can get very complicated.  If you’re interested in knowing even more, you’re welcome to explore some of our past blogs about paper.  Or you can always speak with any member of our helpful staff.



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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.


Tags: printing, tips and tricks, commercial printing, printing services, business solutions, digital printing, offset printing

So you need some brochure design, eh?

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, May 13, 2011 @ 05:01 PM

Tri-fold brochures are one of the most common types of marketing pieces.  They are thin and convenient to carry, or can easy used as a self-mailer.  They offer a slight element of surprise by enticing the viewer to open it and see what’s inside.  Despite how familiar most consumers are with this format, it’s still surprising how few people know how to properly setup their files to create one.

Granted, you might not be using an Adobe application like InDesign or Illustrator. We understand! Not EVERYONE is using top-of-the-line graphic arts software.  SO… if you are stuck using something like Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, or even Publisher (ick…) there’s still a RIGHT way to set up your files.

If you are like 99.9 % of Microsoft Word users, you’ll probably start with a New blank page… and then divide the sheet into three equal columns.


Stop Sign


If this is what you’re about to do…. It’s WRONG!   Now this doesn’t make you a terrible person; it just means you didn’t know any better – and that’s okay.  You’ve come for help and we’re here for you.

Anytime you fold something, the inside panels will ALWAYS be shorter than the outside panels. The thickness of your paper would determine how much smaller. For regular paper weights, 1/16” is standard and for cover weights, about 1/8” will work. In the Tools section of our website you can use our handy-dandy Folding Guide.  There you’ll find the dimensions for most common sizes, as well as the ability to calculate fold panels for any size sheet.  You’ll also see that this same concept works for all types of folds.   While you’re visiting the Folding Guide, you can also learn about french folds, double-parallel folds, gate folds, and more! 

To help get you started, we’ve built a few Trifold Brochure templates: 

MS Word Template MS Publisher Adobe InDesign

Go ahead and download them, but take a look at the guides to see how everything is structured.  You’ll notice all of the margins and guides are setup to make your brochures fold properly.   And don’t forget to bookmark for immediate access to our folding guide, proportion calculator, DPI calculator, and a variety other tools and essentials.


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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.


Tags: printing, graphic design, Adobe InDesign tips, tips and tricks, commercial printing, CS5 tutorials

These 5 Tips Will Make You a Better Proofreader!

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Feb 18, 2011 @ 10:30 AM

Let’s face it... NOBODY enjoys proofreading. Ok, maybe there’s a rare few that get a kick out of it from time-to-time, but nobody really "likes" it. Still, it’s a very important step in any graphic design project or page layout process, and one that sometimes gets overlooked. It’s easy to “pass the buck” on this, and assume someone else should have proofread; but anyone involved in putting files together for printing should take a moment to proof their work. Granted, I’m only talking about proofing for completion and accuracy. Grammar and punctuation can be addressed in someone else’s blog! For us, we just want to help get it on press quickly, and address any concerns BEFORE the project is plated and printed. These tips will help make your proofreading process a little easier.Focus on Proofreading your design project before going to press!

1)      Print it out – It’s way easier to read from paper than on screen (sorry Kindle and Nook people, but it’s true)

2)      Read it out loud to yourself – When you incorporate other senses it helps keep you from making assumptions about what you’re reading.

3)      Read it slowly – In fact, it’s helpful to run your finger along under the text to keep your eyes focused on each word one at a time

4)      Read out of sequence – If you’re proofing tables or charts, try reading in columns instead of rows. Also, sometimes taking paragraphs in reverse-order, or reading body copy separate from headings will keep you from making assumptions about what you’re reading.)

5)      Take extra care with special text – If you have special instances like fine-print, call outs, italicized type, and such, be sure to proofread them more than once.

6)      Double check small words – “or” “of” “on” and “it” “if” “is” are often interchanged without people realizing it.

7)      Watch out for homonyms – Spellcheck only checks spelling errors, not homonyms; so take extra care to check for instances like “their” “they’re” and “there.”

8)      Avoid fluorescent lights when possible Fluorescent lights are harder on your eyes and can lead to eye strain if you’re reading for a long period of time. If you can avoid it and there's a lot of text to proofread, try to take occasional breaks.


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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.


Tags: printing, graphic design, setting up your files, Universal Printing, printing services, business solutions

Choosing Paper for Your Printing Project... Part 2

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Feb 04, 2011 @ 03:00 PM

So you want to know even more about paper, eh?  I don't blame you. Our previous blog post went over some of the basics of paper, like the type of coating or finish, and caliper, weight and bulk.  This post will cover opacity, brightness, shade and grain. Let's get started!

Opacity is just a fancy way of saying the "show through" or "see though" quality of the paper: As in, how much will the printing on the other side of the page "show though." Some papers are categorized as "opaque" sheets, as opposed to "offset" or "bond" papers.   As a general rule, the thicker the paper, the less light gets though; however less bulky papers like vellum are thicker but less dense, leaving more chance for light (and printing) to come through.  Text-heavy projects like annual reports, manuals, or product brochures should be printed on paper with more opacity.

Next in line come brightness and shade.  It would sound like those are the same thing, but in reality they aren't. Brightness is the overall visual appearance of the sheet in terms of how much light they reflect. As you may recall, ink is slightly translucent, which means the brightness of the paper effects the brightness and vividness of the color. Brightness is measured on a scale of 0 to 100; which is to say a sheet measuring as 96 bright is more reflective than a 92 bright sheet.  

Shade refers to the whiteness of the paper. Don't be fooled and think we're talking about the color.  If the paper is light blue, dark blue, yellow, red, cream, natural, eggshell, that is its color. Shade is all about white: Blue White, Yellow White (also called Cream White), and True White.  Papers made with optical brighteners tend to have a cooler hue. These absorb warmer colors and give off more of a faint blue tint. Yellow white uses no brighteners and have a warmer more yellowish hue.  True white is a perfectly neutral sheet.

Boring Science Fact: White light is built of all colors (ROYGBIV) and travels in wavelengths. Blue light has a short wavelength and travels faster, while red and yellow light have longer wavelengths and travel slower. So a Blue White sheet appears to be visually brighter than a yellow white sheet because your eyes actually "see" it first!

Finally it's time to talk about Grain. We all know paper is made from trees, so it would stand to reason that if wood has a grain, so should paper!  In order to make paper, all these trees are ground down into fibers and mixed with water, resin and other stuff (which altogether is known as pulp) and run through huge paper machines that form them into large rolls. Between the speed these machines run and the process the paper pulp goes through, the fibers naturally all tend to line up in the same direction which is the grain direction.  Paper is then cut down, and can be either long grain or short grain. Long grain means the grain direction runs with the longest side, and short grain means it runs along the shortest side.  

The grain direction of your paper can play a very critical role in your project. You've likely heard the expression "going against the grain."  All paper is flexible, but it's always more flexible along the direction of the grain. This is important when thinking about folding projects. When you fold against the grain, the fibers break and crack, which appear ragged and less crisp.  This can easily be addressed by scoring a piece, which pre-creases the sheet and breaks down the fibers in a more controlled way.

Fortunately, we never expect our clients to know everything there is to know about paper.  If you need help picking paper for your project, please contact our helpful Sales or Customer Service Representatives or a member of our award-winning Graphic Design team. They’ll be more than happy to get you started.  We also get to work with some wonderful paper vendors that are always willing to assist with answering questions or providing samples of any paper you can imagine. 


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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.


Tags: printing, graphic design, commercial printing, Universal Printing, printing services, business solutions, direct mail, poster printing

Choosing Paper for Your Printing Project... Part 1

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Jan 28, 2011 @ 12:30 PM

Paper comes in all colors, weights, and finishes; and sometimes our customers know EXACTLY what paper they want. More likely, we'll take in a project where the client won't have a clue what they want, or even need.

When choosing paper, we need to know some paper lingo. Let's start with the surface of the paper. Is it Coated or Uncoated? There are different types of coating, based on how shiny it is. Gloss is the smoothest and most reflective. It’s perfect for photos or flyers; anything that needs a quick visual POP. Matte is on the other end of the scale. It reflects very little light, so it’s easier on the eyes when reading text. Paper companies don’t have any rules for how they categorize coatings. There are a lot of in-between terms – Silk, Satin, Dull – but each is still coated and takes ink very well. Some papers are coated on one side and uncoated on the other, called C1S (for “coated 1 side”). With both sides coated it would be C2S, but it's generally just called Coated.

Uncoated sheets have different surfaces called Finish. Most common are Smooth, Vellum, Felt and Embossed. Again, some paper companies like to be fancy and come up names like “Super Smooth” or “Laser” to describe the finish of their paper. Ink lays down well on most of them, but you’ll want to be careful when using toner-based printers or copiers. This is especially true with Embossed papers like Linen (cross-hatched like fabric) or Laid (similar to corduroy) since the toner won’t sink into the deeper crevices of the paper.

Once you know what the surface is, you’ll want to figure out the thickness. This can get VERY confusing, since it involves three aspects: Caliper, Weight and Bulk.

Caliper is the actual thickness measured in mils (1/1000”) or points.  Paper that measures 0.010” thick is 10pt, 0.014” thick is 14pt, and so on.

Weight is the “basis weight,” which is how much 500 sheets weigh at a specific sheet size: 25” x 38” for text weights, and 20” x 26” for cover weights. If 500 sheets of 25”x38” paper weighs 80 lbs, that would be 80lb text and 500 sheets of 20”x26” cover weighing 100 lbs. would be 100lb cover. Often “lbs” is replaced with the “#” symbol, so 100 lbs = 100#. Get the idea? Good! Let’s move on.

Bulk is the overall density of the paper. Like how the metric system measures “mass” instead of weight (on the moon you would weigh less, but your mass still takes up the same amount of space.) It’s a formula that considers Caliper and Weight.  In simple terms, thicker sheets have more bulk. Also, coated sheets have less bulk then uncoated sheets, which helps explain why 100# coated cover feels much thinner and less stable than 100# uncoated cover.

Next, paper is classified into two categories: Text and Bond. Cardstock has more categories: Bristol, Index, Cover and Board. Bond or Writing is your general multipurpose paper. It ranges from copier-grade 20# bond all the way up to nice fancy resume-type papers like 28# writing. Text is what’s often used for books, newsletters, flyers, etc. Here’s where confusion starts… in terms of thickness 50# text is equal to 20# bond, 60# text equals 24# bond, 70# text equals 28# bond, and so on.

Bristol, also called Vellum Bristol, is a lightweight cardstock. The surface is a little rougher since it isn’t compressed when it gets made. It feels a little thicker, even though it’s not as dense. This makes it less expensive and is often used for mailers and single-use pieces. Index is smoother and feels thinner and is often used for tabs, file folders – and you guessed it – Index Cards!

Cover is the general usage term for most cardstock weights. It’s usually made to match their companion text weights, so it is usually used for newsletters and books so all the text and cover sheets in the same piece would match. Board is used mostly for display pieces, pocket folders, posters, etc. Unlike other stocks, which are listed by weight, Board is generally selected by thickness (10pt, 12 pt, etc.)

There are so many paper choices available and every single one of them is just waiting for a printer like us to start slapping some  ink on them. We love paper – we love, love, love it. If you need help picking paper for your project, please contact our helpful Sales or Customer Service Representatives or a member of our award-winning Graphic Design team. They’ll be more than happy to get you started.

Also check out Part 2: Opacity, Brightness, Shade and Grain.


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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.


Tags: printing, graphic design, commercial printing, Universal Printing, printing services, business solutions, direct mail, poster printing

More about Color: Digital Color | RGB vs. CMYK

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Jan 21, 2011 @ 10:30 AM

Universal Printing has been in business for over 30 years, and when you're doing something for so long it's easy to forget that things we deal with day-in and day-out are completely foreign and mysterious to other people.  This is the case with RGB and CMYK color spaces.

Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten...

Color Wheel | RYB Color ModelMost of us first started to learn about color in school. We learned about the Primary Colors: Red, Yellow, and Blue. We learned that the secondary colors (Orange, Purple and Green) are made from mixing the primary colors: for example, "yellow and blue make green."   While this is generally a good starting point for teaching the basics of color, when it comes to color printing, we need to break color down a little further.

In commercial offset printing, digital printing, and even your inkjet printer at home, color is built from 4 pigments know as Process Colors:

C = Cyan
Y = Yellow

M = Magenta
K = Black

These colors in various combinations, and used at different tints and screen angles, can produce a wide range of color. Even the "primary colors" we were taught are base colors that can't be mixed, are made from mixing the process colors.  "Blue" is made by mixing Cyan and Magenta, and "Red" comes from combining Magenta and Yellow.  The addition of Black is used for darker shades, while lighter shades come from using lighter tints (also known as screens or halftones.)  When you look at any printed piece, it's CMYK.  This color model is considered "subtractive color" because if you start at 100% of all 4 colors, you have a deep rich "black" and you have to subtract color to get to "white."

Have you met Roy G. Biv?

RGB Color WheelAnother thing we were taught in school, is that white light is made from all colors. The example that's always used to demonstrate how this works is a rainbow.  The spectrum of light is arranged in the following order: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet (which is where the acronym ROYGBIV comes from.)  Using this principal the RGB color space uses Red, Green, and Blue light to create color. The RGB model is considered "additive color" because no light is "black" and you have to add color to get to "white."  The best example of this is your television or computer monitor. 

WYSIWYG? What you see isn't always what you get...

Since RGB color and CMYK color is made completely differently, there is often something lost in translation.  A lot of people will put together files for printing and see how it looks on screen, and wonder why it looks completely different when it's printed out. Sometimes people will print things on their inkjet printer and wonder why it looks different than the G7-calibrated Contract Proof we produce.

The whole RGB vs CMYK difference is also why most Commercial Printers will tend to cringe a little when we hear that files for output were originally created in Microsoft Office.  Word, Excel, and Powerpoint were all designed to be business software applications. Any time you chose a color in these programs, you're choosing and RGB color.  If you wanted your project to print as process color, colors will shift... ALWAYS.  Microsoft "red" is a very orange-red, and their "blue" is a deep purple.  The brilliant neon green that Microsoft shows on your screen, will always print like a dark almost forest green.  When we show a color proof of these files, people generally seem surprised. Adobe programs like InDesign and Illustrator will handle colors much better, allowing for RGB color for the web, but also CMYK and Pantone Spot colors.  Even still, computer monitors are never going to be an accurate preview of how printed colors will appear.

It's important to simply understand that color is very complicated, but you can always contact your Customer Service or Sales Representative and they will gladly walk you through the process of getting the best possible color printing for your project.  If color is critical for your project, you'll always want to request a calibrated contract proof (like the proofs WE use) and in some cases you may even want to arrange a Press Proof to see your project while it's being run.

If you've found this article helpful, or if you have any other questions about RGB or CMYK color, please leave a comment below.


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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.


Tags: printing, graphic design, Adobe InDesign tips, tips and tricks, setting up your files, commercial printing

Choosing Inks for Color Printing - Metallics and other Specialty Inks

Posted by Universal Printing on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 @ 10:20 AM

So far our previous blog posts have talked about Spot Colors, Process Colors, and how the difference between coated and uncoated paper impacts the color and appearance of the ink. Sometimes you might want to get a little more POP from your printed pieces. For some people, metallic ink has great appeal.

Pantone Metallic Ink FormulasOriginally, Pantone offered 7 metallic inks. PANTONE 871 through PANTONE 876 are a range of hues moving from gold to copper, with PANTONE 877 being silver.  Commercial Offset Printers, like us, would occasionally mix these metallic with colored inks to create metallic tints.  By the late 1990's, Pantone issued their first office Formula guide of tinted metallics and currently they offer 300 variations of tinted metallic formulations.

There are a few things to consider if you are working with metallic ink. First of all, unlike process and spot colors, metallic inks are more opaque.  They are less affected by the color or brightness of the paper stock they are printed on, but are still very much impacted by the finish of the paper.  Since metallic inks contain particles of metal (or sometimes synthetic pigments made to resemble metal) they need to knockout from other colors, rather than over printing.  Overprinting can sometimes dramatically change the appearance of the metallic, especially depending on the order in which the inks are printed on the sheet. 

Also, since these metal particles are what give metallic inks their shiny appearance, it's generally a good idea to use them for larger areas. Delicate line art, thin rules, or small type don't make sense for metallic ink, since you wouldn't get the full impact.  Screen and tints wouldn't really show off the benefits either.  Generally, to maximize the effect of metallic inks, you should use larger solid areas and coated paper. This gives the metal particles the best shot at rising to the surface of the ink where they can catch the light and really shine!Metallic Ink | Gold and Silver Bars

Maybe I want use Invisible Ink!

So you've spent a lot of time and energy creating your artwork and setting up your files.  Why would anyone want to use invisible ink?  The truth is, there's a time and place for specialty inks.  And while there's no real "invisible" ink, there are certain types of ink designed to be seen under special circumstances.  UV Fluorescent inks only show up under a UV light. 

There are also "reactive inks" which laydown essentially clear or lightly translucent but will react to special pens or when rubbed with a coin.  The chemical reaction causes the ink to change color and become visible.  Thermochromatic inks will change color or visibility when exposed to heat from friction, like being rubbed with your finger.  Most of these various ink options would only be used when trying to maintain the security or authenticity of a printed project ( for example, checks, official documents, certificates, or special event tickets.)  Scratch-off inks are another type of specialty ink, which can be used for promotional pieces, special giveaways, or hidden messages on direct mail pieces.

If you'd like to learn more about how specialty inks can be used to make your project unique, feel free to contact one of our Customer Service or Sales Representatives. Also, if there are any questions about this article, or information you'd like to see covered in more detail, please feel free to leave a comment below.


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Universal Printing
Offering quality printing and communications solutions to
Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the Triangle since 1979.

Tags: printing, graphic design, Adobe InDesign tips, tips and tricks, setting up your files, commercial printing

Choosing Inks for Color Printing - Coated vs. Uncoated

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Jan 14, 2011 @ 12:30 PM

If you read our previous blog post, you should know the difference between Spot Colors and Process Colors and the role they play in commercial printing. Just to recap a few points:

  • Spot Colors are blended from any of 15 different base inks
  • Process Colors are made by using different percentages of the four process inks
    (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) to build colors
  • Even when used as a solid, ink is slightly translucent, not opaque

Coated vs. Uncoated

If you have a Pantone Formula Guide, or if you've used any design programs like the Adobe applications, you know that Pantone colors are listed by number. For example, PANTONE 185 is a bright red, while PANTONE 355 is kelly green.  These colors have a letter after the number, C or U. Older programs might tag these colors as CVC or CVU (for "Computer Video Coated" and "Computer Video Uncoated"), but this has largely been abandoned. Either way, when you see these letters they refer to the type of paper. C stands for "coated" and U stands for "uncoated." In some rare instances you might see an M for "matte," which is still technically a coated stock. In the world of Pantone though "coated" means GLOSS coated... as in, shiny paper. In this post, when you see "coated" you'll know we mean "gloss coated." 

Coated papers have a smooth finish, where the paper is pressed and polished while hot or steamed during the manufacturing process. This coating makes the paper less absorbent and takes ink better. Think of it as the coat of primer you'd use before painting your walls.

Pantone Coated and Uncoated chipsUncoated paper is just that; paper without the coated layer. It's often used for letterhead, printer paper, copy machine paper, etc.  Sometimes it will be classified as "bond" or "writing," but those are  just other ways of saying "uncoated." it's fair to say, if coated paper is less absorbent (like a wall with primer) than uncoated paper is MORE absorbent (like a wall WITHOUT primer!)

Regardless of whether a color is C or U, the ink is made the same. The image to the right shows that PANTONE 293 C and PANTONE 293 U look very different, but are made from the same formula (equal parts of Reflex Blue and Process Blue.) Since coated papers allow the ink to sit on the surface, it remains rich and vibrant. The uncoated sheet allows more ink to be absorbed into the paper.  Sometimes the minerals used as pigment to color the inks effect how it will absorbed and also effects the color.

Notice PANTONE 290 C and PANTONE 290 U are closer in color.  This color is made mostly from Transparent White (which you'll remember is essentially "clear" and allows more paper to show though the ink.) Since only 3.2% of the mixture is actual pigmented ink, it's less affected by the coated and uncoated paper. As a result, coated and uncoated versions of lighter colors like yellow and light shades of blue, red, or green, will match more closely, while darker shades and colors will look different... sometimes VERY different.

In fact, some designers will go as far as to choose different spot colors for their files, depending on the stock that's used.  PANTONE 710 U don't really match PANTONE 710 C very well, but PANTONE 185 U does match fairly well.

The color difference in coated and uncoated stocks is also true for Process Colors, though for slightly different reasons.  Process color allows a wider array of colors due to using halftones and blending tints of each process color.  Everything is made up of dots; big dots, little dots, but dots nonetheless (if you need a visual, check our previous blog Spot Color vs Process Color.)  These dots of varying sizes are more likely to be effected by something called "dot gain."  Remember how uncoated stocks are more absorbent, which means they will be more likely to cause the ink dots to swell slightly? This is dot gain. Most everyone knows the Bounty Paper Towel commercials, where the paper towel is used on a small spill and as the towel absorbs it, the spot on the towel spreads out.  Ink on uncoated paper does a similar thing, so a halftone dot of magenta that's set for 50%, could swell up to 55% on some stocks and causing the color to shift slightly.

The bottom line is, whether you choose a coated paper or an uncoated paper for your project, you'll want to work closely with your Customer Service or Sales Representative. They can always provide you with coated or uncoated chips of different Pantone colors.  You can also request a Press Proof, where you can see your job running on press and review the final version for yourself. 


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