Commercial Printing Tips: Understanding Ink Coverage

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Apr 20, 2012 @ 03:00 PM

Here at Universal Printing, we love "Good Design."  Thank You Mr. Puppy, for helping us underand Total Ink CoverageNot only do we have our own talented Design professionals in-house, but we've been fortunate to work with a number of amazing Ad Agencies and Independent Designers from around the country. Everyone has their own style and work habits, but almost all of them have one thing in common: They always want tips, suggestions, and feedback from their Printing Partner. 

One of the easiest and most helpful ways to improve the design, runability, and final impact of a piece, is to avoid unnecessary ink saturation.  Too much ink an any one spot can lead to printing and drying issues, which in turn effect everything from how quickly your project can be printed, to possible issues in the cutting and finishing of your project. Too much ink layered on top of each other can lead to other prblems like "plugging" or "muddying" your photos.  But don't fret — we're here to help!  Let's start with this adorable puppy in a tiny rocking chair in the above image. He looks like he could sell something, or at least make sure your target audient give him a second look!  Time to figure out how to maximize his impact, and keep is adorable little puppy face neat and clean! 

What is Total Area Coverage? 

Ink Coverage Puppy AnimationFor Black & White, or Monochrome images, this is easy to understand.  Dark shadow areas might be in the 90% tint range, while Highlight areas may fall more into a 5%-15% tint.  With Full Color images, things get more intense! You now have 4 different ink colors, all piling on top of each other.  If you piled have 4 layers of ink, all at 50% screen, you'll get a total of 200% Total Area Coverage in that area.  If those layers are 80% each, you'll have a combined 320% Total Area Coverage.  As a general rule, 280% is about as high as you want to go, depending on paper type and finish. We usually flag anything above 260% total ink.

Fortunately, with the latest Adobe products, checking your Total Area Coverage has become a simple few clicks of the mouse.  Take Adobe Acrobat, for instance:  You simply open your image or PDF file, and then open the "Output Preview" window under the "Print Production" tools.  Under the window showing your Separations, you'll see a "Total Area Coverage" checkbox.  Click it, select your highlight color (green in our example below), and select 260% in the dropdown box.  You'll see that Mr. Fuzzy-Face has a TON of ink in the background, all over his chair, and most importantly his eyes and nose. Those eyes are where he makes his money, so next we'll see how to adjust for that!

Puppy Ink Coverage

Fixing the Issue in Photoshop

Generally speaking, there are several ways to adjust for the Total Ink Coverage in your images.  The fastest and easiest is in Photoshop, assuming your images are still RGB.  We’re going to rely on Adobe’s built-in GCR (Grey Component Replacement) process.  GCR is simply this: We want to take those super saturated built blacks, which are causing all of the excessive ink buildup, and transfer some of the built shadow to the Black channel.  In this case, Pup-Dizzle’s eyes and nose and chair, start at almost 300% (C=78% | M=70% | Y=63% | K=85%).   We want to lower the C, M, Y channels proportionately to not affect the hue, and enhance the black to enhance the darkness.  

Universal Printing GCR settings for Adobe Photoshop

Start by opening your RGB image in Photoshop, and select “Color Settings” from the Edit menu.  Next, choose “Custom CMYK…” under the CMYK dropdown in the Working Spaces section of the window.  Set the Separation Options to GCR, with Black Generation set to “Heavy” or “Maximum”, and put “260%” in the Total Ink Limit field.  

Name this setting and click OK to apply it and also save it for future use.  Feel free to toggle the Preview on and off before clicking OK again, and you should notice that in most images, there is very little visual change, but when you set your color mode from RGB to CMYK, most of the shadows are pushed to the Black separation where they belong, and the Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow are simply making the colors colorful.  Visually, the picture is almost identical to where it started, but now those shadow areas build differently (C=61% | M=50% | Y=48% | K=95%) with a more manageable 254% Total Area Coverage.

By controlling your Total Area Coverage, you can ensure the best possible results from your photos and graphics. You’ll also run into fewer color shifts, delays due to drying time, and possible quality issues during the finishing process.  For more information about how to prepare your files for print, feel free to browse our blog, or contact any member of our helpful staff.  Our Customer Service team is always available to point you in the right direction!



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


Tags: graphic design, setting up your files, commercial printing, offset printing, Gracol, G7, Adobe Photoshop, color correction

Your Printing New Year’s Resolution... Is To Understand Resolution!

Posted by Universal Printing on Tue, Jan 03, 2012 @ 04:16 PM

DPI… PPI... dots per inch... points per inch... pixels per inch... No matter how you say it, it all comes down to one simple thing: RESOLUTION. In order to get the BEST print quality from your images, you need to know it, understand it, and never take it for granted.

First off, we need to know what resolution means. Resolution is how many dots/pixels fit into one inch. The term “dots per inch” (dpi) and “pixels per inch” (ppi) are often used interchangeably. The fewer dots or pixels per inch, the larger each one is, so low resolution images will look jaggy and chucky.  Images used for the web will be LOW RESOLUTION (referred to as “Low Res”) at about 72 – 95ppi. For digital or offset printing, we suggest that you use images between 300 – 400dpi. The higher the resolution, the sharper and crisper your printed image will be. Who wouldn't want that?

High Resolution vs Low Resolution

When dealing with images for print, here are a few simple rules to follow:

  1. Resolution and image size are directly related to each other. Enlarge an image, the resolution decreases; reduce an image, and the resolution increases. For example: a 2 x 2" image at 300 dpi (awesome) enlarged to 4 x 4" has a new resolution of 150 dpi (lame). To help you figure your enlargement/reduction resolution, check out our Resolution Calculator.
  2. Photos should be at least 300dpi at final production size in the layout.
  3. Graphics that include text should be at least 400dpi final output size (so the edges of the type remain clear.)
  4. You can always be taken away, but it can NEVER be added. True, you can shrink your image, but to get HIGH RESOLUTION images, the resolution needs to be set during the initial creation of that image. So if you’re scanning, shooting with a digital camera, or creating from scratch, what you start with is the most you’ll get.
  5. What you see is NOT what you’ll always get! Computer monitors generally have a display setting of 72 dpi. This is WAY lower than the 300-400 dpi we expect for print production. If we ever tell you that some of your images are low resolution, they may not look bad on your monitor but will likely print blurry or jagged.

Things to avoid:

Web images are predominately low resolution (72-96 dpi) GIF or JPEG files. This resolution is great for quick transmission over the internet, but not for printing. They will just look BAD, so don't do it.  Just don't!

“Upsampling” is when a low resolution image is saved to a higher resolution with no changes in dimensions. This simply adds more dots per inch (dpi), but creates blurry images, ugly blocks of color, and high contrast in images. The only way resolution can be improved is by decreasing the image size, or by recapturing the image at a higher quality setting. Again, don't do it.  It won't fool ANYONE!

Now you are starting to understand what "resolution" is, and you're eager to learn more!  Maybe you're curious on how to put this new found knowledge to use.  Maybe you got a really cool digital camera or snazzy smart phone for Christmas, and are ready to take amazing pictures and use them for your design projects.  Come back NEXT week to see how to set your devices to get the best resolution from your digital photos!



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


Tags: graphic design, setting up your files, Adobe Photoshop, Photos, Digital camera

Graphic Design Tip! How Does Foil Stamping Work?

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Nov 18, 2011 @ 12:45 PM

’Tis the Season to send out Holiday Cards!  The weather gets a little cooler and winter is right around the corner, which can only mean one thing: Holiday Season!  It’s time to start breaking out the decorations and start singing carols like that old holiday classic Silver & Gold.  There’s just something classy about silver and gold.  It's used for expensive jewelry, it backs our nation’s currency, it' used for trophies, awards, and medals. Silver and Gold simply epitomize class, value, and sophistication.

You’ll often see gold, silver, or other metallic inks used on stationery, invitations, and a variety other printed materials.  They look nice, but somehow lack that special POP.  For those cases, where metallic ink just won’t do, there’s another solution: FOIL STAMPING.

When planning for foil stamping, it’s important to understand a few things about the process.

  1. Foil Stamping is NOT the same as embossing.  They are often done together, but they do not HAVE to be.  Embossing changes the surface of the paper or cardstock to create a raised image (or a lowered image in the case of “debossing”).  Foil is also done using a die and adding heat and pressure, but you can add foil to your project without needing to raise or lower the surface of the image.
  2. An even surface is better.  The best impact is going to be on smooth coated surfaces, like Cast-Coated or High Gloss stock.  Dull or Matte coated stocks take foil well also, as does smooth uncoated sheets.  Heavier stocks are more durable and hold up better to the process, although text weights can be used.  Textured papers like linen or felt are more difficult, since the surface texture and effect the way the foil is pressed onto the sheet, and your image might not be as crisp as it could be. Also, while you CAN foil on top of wax-free inks, you should avoid using coatings or varnishes in the area to be foil stamped.
  3. Line art is a MUST.  In order for the foil to fuse to the stock properly, there needs to be enough surface area to grab onto. Halftone dots and super thin lines won’t fuse as easily and may flake off, which will appear as “broken” or “missing” during a long production run.

What you need…

The Die: This is a metal plate with the reversed image raised from the surface, like you would see with a stamp.  Typically these will be made of brass, copper, or magnesium.  Buying a die can be a little pricey, but they can be used over and over.

The Foil: Foil is generally manufactured on a film roll made up of pigment, clear mylar, and a heat-activated adhesive.

The Stuff:  This is what you want to foil stamp.  It can be business cards, greeting cards, letterhead, pocket folders, certificates, invitations, or anything else you can think of.

How it works...

Gold Foil example of foil stampingAt its simplest form, Foil Stamping comes down to three things:  Heat, Pressure, and Time.

The foil film is positioned between the heated metal die and the material receiving the foil.

The die presses the foil onto the material and the heat activates the adhesive. 

Under pressure, the foil fuses onto surface of the item and is released from the mylar carrier everywhere the raise image has pressed.  If the heat is too low or the time is too short, then the foil won’t fuse and stick. If the heat is too high or the time is too long, the foil may bubble or blister; or the image edges may appear rough or ragged.

Another great thing about foil is that you’re not limited to just metallic effects.  You can find anything from gloss to dull, colors and fluorescents, holographic – there’s even clear!  See the chart below for some of the most common foils available, but these may vary. Contact us for other colors or samples.

REMEMBER!  Foil does NOT follow the Pantone Matching System for color.  So while you can't MATCH a PMS color, you may be able to find something close.

Samples of Foil Colors



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


Tags: graphic design, Adobe InDesign tips, tips and tricks, setting up your files, Graphic Design Durham, graphic design raleigh, foil stamping, gold foil

Tips & Tricks for your Graphic Design Portfolio | InDesign Columns

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Jul 08, 2011 @ 04:37 PM

Adobe InDesign continues to refine and improve it's tools. The video below is a review of the Column Splitting and Spanning feature, which helps eliminate the need for multiple text boxes.  This is ESPECIALLY handy for magazine and newsletter layout, where you might have multiple headers and the potential for far too many text boxes.  If you've been doing Graphic Design and Page Layout for very long, you've no doubt already dealt with clients or editors who've made very substantial changes, maybe even massive re-writes, which requires a major amount of reflowing and rearranging of your layouts.   Life will be so much easier if you use this simple and handy technique to eliminate unnecessary text boxes and keep things neat, tidy, and easy to rework if needed.

Another important point to make is this: The faster and more efficient you can work and rework your projects, the more time you'll have to take on more.  Your clients will be happy with how quickly you can turn out their projects, and you'll be happy with the time you'll save.  Just remember, when everyone is so happy, that Universal Printing was here for you the whole time, sharing our tips, tricks, and experience, to help you become a better designer and have better files for printing.

And as always, many more tutorial videos like the one above can be found on our YouTube channel.  Let us know which tips and tricks you'd like to see!  Leave your suggestions in the comments field below, or leave a comment or video response on any of our YouTube tutorial videos.



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


Tags: graphic design, Adobe InDesign tips, tips and tricks, setting up your files, commercial printing, CS5 tutorials, product reviews

5 MORE sites every Graphic Design & Printing Professional should know

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, May 20, 2011 @ 03:24 PM

Our previous blog (6 sites EVERY Graphic Designer or Printing Professional should know) was so well received, that we decided to share five MORE. Check out these sites for even MORE tools and information!

If you're looking for JUST the right font for your next printing or graphic design project, your first stop should be  They are like the Facebook of Fonts, with a cool community atmosphere where typographers can share their latest creations and talk about type.  The Forums section allows you to interact with peers and professionals for help recognizing a font, or getting feedback on new fonts and logotypes. Plus, their grouping and categorizing of all those fonts makes it SO easy to find what you need.

Maybe we're a little biased... but these guys have been linking to our templates and resources for years. It's an online community of talented designers and prepress professionals that share a wealth of knowledge. You can also get critiques on your current or past design projects. But it's not for the faint of heart; These guys are tough, fair, sometimes harsh, and the occasional newb will get pwned! But still, it's a great resource for finding answers to just about any question.

If there's ONE thing better than an irreverent Aussie, it's MANY irreverent Aussies that knows a helluva lot about ART! These guys have daily updates about anything and everything going on in art, print, web, and design. Just this past week they covered events in their native Australia, over in Morocco, an all the way up to Portland, Maine! They don't miss a beat, and neither should you!

Most every design professional either currently HAS, or HAD a subscription to HOW Magazine. All of us at Universal Printing are proud supporters of paper; so while there's no substitution for the printed magazine in your hands, we can't deny the shear awesomeness of HOW's online presence. They have forums, blogs, tools, lessons, lists of events, and so much more.

Who doesn't love Photoshop?!  EVERYONE knows how cool it is, but let's face it... unless you're a graphic designer or prepress professional with at least 5 years of solid experience, then you haven't even STARTED to scratch the surface. (And sorry, you Photoshop SE and Photoshop Elements users, but you're even FURTHER behind!) Fortunately, the folks at Psdtuts+ have a TON of easy-to-follow tutorials on every possible effect and technique. Definitely a "Must-Bookmark" for your browser.




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


Tags: graphic design, tips and tricks, setting up your files, commercial printing, printing services, business solutions, product reviews

6 sites EVERY Graphic Designer or Printing Professional should know

Posted by Universal Printing on Fri, Mar 04, 2011 @ 02:50 PM

These six websites are LOADED with great tools and information.  If they aren't bookmarked in your browser yet, they SHOULD be!

Trish Witkowski (self-described “Folding Fanatic”) is the driving force behind this creative informational site. If their handy InDesign plug-ins don’t interest you, maybe their YouTube Channel will.  It's full of creative ideas for custom folds that can make any of your design pieces standout from the pack.  They even have additional Fun Fold Facts available to impress and inspire you.

Trying to figure out what font was used for that logo or headline?  Simply upload an image file of the type in question, and they will search their extensive library of fonts to find the closest matches along with links of where to the purchase them, if needed.  They also feature Hot New Fonts and a vast array of additional typography tools and resources.

Of COURSE we are going to toot our own horn a bit, but it’s our blog and we make the rules!  In all seriousness though… our traffic doesn’t lie, and the numbers of links and referrals we get only help support our belief that we have one of the most informative websites of any printing company out there today.  We have assembled a bunch of handy tools (like our Proportion Calculator, Folding Guides, and Envelope Diagrams) and our Blog continues to have more and more helpful hints and information.  In fact, feel free to fill out the Subscribe by Email form at the upper right of this page to have our blog posts delivered right to your inbox.

These folks proudly claim “the world's largest library of brand logos in vector format available to download for free.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that!  It doesn’t matter whether you need the logo for AAA or ZhuZhu Pets or anything in between, these guys probably have it available as a vector file.

As host to several utilities, downloadable resources, and user forums, this website is a place where any graphic designer or graphic communications professional can submerge themselves in for hours.  Their forums are a great resource for sharing information, tips, and critiques (whether solicited or not!)  Their ever-changing gallery of images helps to get your creative juices flowing. They even have current job listings for Full-Time or Freelance Graphic Design positions available all across the country.

Petr Staníček describes himself as a “professional designer and developer, amateur musician and bardling, dropout typographer, happy father of two beautiful daughters, mathemagician, lazy linguistician, and almost professional cook.”  To us, he’s the cool creator of this handy web app that does EXACTLY what it says: Helps you design color schemes.  Every graphic artist and web designer runs into a mental block at some point, trying to figure out new ways to make your pages stand out. This tools is very easy to use and when your satisfied with the results, you can export the palette as HTML or XML, or as an ACO to import right into Photoshop.



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


Tags: graphic design, tips and tricks, setting up your files, commercial printing, printing services, business solutions, product reviews

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

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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