Another Printing Disasters—and How to Avoid Them story, complete with cautionary tales and disaster avoidance tips.

Blue Cautionary Tales

Last year I had two annual reports at press at the same time. One book had heavy black coverage, but dried just fine. The other had heavy blue coverage and took two extra days to dry!

On another project, the blue ink appeared to be dry, so the printer proceeded to die cut and trim the sheets. The result? The ink offset or rubbed off from one page to another on the finished product. All of the pieces had to be reprinted—at the printer’s expense.

When I worked at Nordstrom, the primary brand color was a very dark blue. Over those two years, I spent a lot of time waiting for ink to dry!

The culprit in every case? Blue. Reflex blue.

It’s in the Ink formula

So why do some blue inks dry so slowly? The answer lies in the ink formula. Every spot color is mixed from some of the 14 mixing colors: yellow, yellow 012, orange 021, warm red, red 032, rubine red, rhodamine red, purple, violet, blue 072,  reflex blue, process blue, green and black.

These mixing colors consist of pigment mixed with binders such as vegetable oil. If you’re an artist, you may recognize several of the pigment names. Many of these pigments are minerals which react in characteristic ways. Rubine red is known for shifting in hue as it dries; reflex blue is infamous for impeding drying.

Take a look at the mixing colors located on the first few pages of a Pantone Color Formula Guide. Then look at the formulas shown at the bottom of every blue chip in the guide. Blues that contain the largest percentage of reflex blue, such as Pantone 288 (12 parts reflex blue + 4 parts process blue + 1 part black) will be the most slow to dry.

Disaster Avoidance Tips

What to do about reflex blue? These tricks have worked for me, and some do not cost extra:

  • Specify synthetic reflex blue in the ink mix. It may be charged as a special mix, adding $35–$50.
  • Ask the printer whether reconfiguring the ink mix is advisable. Drying agents can be added to speed drying, but other considerations, such as holding detail in fine tints, should be weighed. You may be charged for some press downtime and an ink unit wash-up.
  • Have the printer print small lifts. These shorter stacks of paper allow more air to circulate and gasses to escape, to facilitate drying. Adds to run time on press, but I’ve never been charged extra for it.
  • Print on Friday and allow the sheets to dry over the weekend before printing side B or starting binding processes. (Here’s another case for adequate turn times!)
  • Print with UV inks. The UV drier units dry the inks immediately. UV-ink- printed jobs can cost up to 20% more than conventional inks, but the quality is fabulous.
  • Select a PMS blue that has less reflex blue in its formula. Designers won’t like this idea very much, but when the deadline will not budge, it’s an option worthy of consideration—and it’s free.
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