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When you're using Pantone colours in some prints or in my case packaging design - will you get the same level of quality ink in different printer shops?

How do they get their supply, does it all come from one and mighty Pantone or are there some alternatives on the market that you can buy cheaper?

What else could influence the quality and longevity of the inks (and in what way)?

  • Late thought... are you specifying a special colour, or hoping they can get it from CMYK?... many people can't afford a 5 or 6-colour press [most offset litho machines are 4-colour only] & hope they can get a match in CMYK. The machine op will try his best, but it can depend on how the ink runs off on the rest of the sheet. 4-colour matching is part art, part science. – Tetsujin Jul 18 '18 at 17:59
  • I am trying to learn and understand more about printing.. I have a problem with colours fading on the boxes so thinking about all the factors included I realised I don't know some basics like what inks can be used to make a Pantone - and is there even a possibility to get a lower quality ink in some print shops .. here is the problem with our boxes: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/112835/… – Mjav Jul 18 '18 at 21:50
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Interesting question.

Pantone is not a manufacturer of inks, Pantone is a color matching system.

When you're using Pantone colours

You are not using a "Pantone color", you are using a color that is labeled in a specific way by a system that has some specific rules and values to be reproduced by ink manufacturers and print shops.

I will separate "rules" and "values" here.

A rule is a recipe, this comes in Pantone's formula guide. "X parts of this ink + Y parts of that one".

And values are specific for "absolute" values, for example translating the Pantone color to a Lab color, to be measured with a colorimeter or spectrometer.

Will you get the same level of quality ink in different printer shops?

This depends on the quality of the ink manufacturer, a print shop does not make inks.

There are some excellent manufacturers of inks, some German, some Japanese, some NorthAmerican, some more local on specific countries.

Some of the big brands have some commercial and licensing relationship to label their inks as "Pantone", but some other simply use other standardized systems, like Toyo.

Then you need to understand the supply chain. This is not linear, but I need to make a decision to form a list.

  • Specifications
  • Manufacturer
  • Supplier
  • Print shop

A manufacturer can make inks based on several specifications or several color systems, but they could be tied to one by contract.

are there some alternatives on the market that you can buy cheaper?

Some brands have different labels for different quality inks, some cheaper inks, some more expensive.

Cheaper could mean they are not paying some licenses or could mean a specific pigment or chemical is not used and it is using another instead.

Cheaper can also mean that you could use some colors that are more common than others, for example, fewer people use X color than Y color, therefore X color is more expensive because the print shop needs to buy that color only for you.

One specific answer is to find a local manufacturer. Where I live there is a brand named "Sanchez" which is a well-known provider with excellent quality inks, but it is local.

What else could influence the quality and longevity of the inks (and in what way)?

Quality could mean several things...

  • Accuracy of color, which depends not only on the color, but also to the density and transparency of the ink.
  • The consistency of the pigment, for example, particle size.
  • The consistency of the mix. An ink is not only pigments but agglutinants, solvents, etc.
  • Some additives are to protect pigments from degradation, UV filtering, fixation, dry speed, toxicity.

All those things are stipulated on specifications. And these specifications not only for the manufacturing of inks (which are company specifics) but all printing process. Humidity, temperature, paper, etc.


But there is a more immediate thing you need to consider.

Are the inks, regardless of the manufacturer, prepared by "eye" just based on the recipe? or they are prepared by a recipe using a standardized process. The main practical difference is the amount of ink.

If you are printing a small quantity of stuff, you probably need one-quarter of a Kilo of ink. And that is it.

If you want "cheap" the printer could prepare some ink using base color inks, and adjust "by eye" the color. (No manufacturer makes all Pantone, but the base color sets)

If your project is several hundreds of thousands of pieces, it is better to ask some kilos, not to the manufacturer, but to the ink supplier. This company will mix the same base inks but with some more rigorous methods, weighing the ingredients and probably using some spectrometer to confirm the color and density.

And normally you need to pay, let's say 10 kilos of ink.

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    @Rafeal Very well put. – GoofyMonkey Jul 18 '18 at 17:30
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Some printers depending on the colour may mix the colour in house. In my experience, this can be the cause of most discrepancies.

Another issue I've come across is the ink supplier the printer is using may supply Pantone Colour matched inks, but the quality of the ink isn't the same as others, leading to variances.

To ensure that a job is getting the absolute right colour on jobs that colour is a key issue, I usually insist that the Pantone ink is ordered pre-mixed from the supplier. This will help to ensure that any job run multiple times, or with other products will have the most consistency. Especially if you have to revisit the job over multiple years.

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    I worked in offset litho for a while & one thing is certain, even the paper stock can affect the result, even using the same ink. [I don't mean coated vs non, I mean one mill vs another on what is theoretically the 'same paper'.] – Tetsujin Jul 18 '18 at 16:03
  • @Tetsujin I completely agree. It's sometimes amazing the differences in brightness between a proof stock and a press sheet I see when doin press approvals. – GoofyMonkey Jul 18 '18 at 17:29

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