The Big Swatch Book of Silkscreen Printing Inks and Papers

So I’ve been working giving away cranes and new designs, but a new BIG IDEA came to mind recently and I couldn’t help but play around with the possibilities.

Simulated CMYK swatch

Simulated CMKY inks on French Speckletone Kraft

With every print I do I make an effort to try something new and grow a bit as a printer. When I started I was using Dick Blick waterbased textile inks. They are okay for some things, but I stepped up to Speedball Acrylic inks earlier this year and I like them considerably better and the price difference is negligible. My expereience with different papers has been a few colors from French Paper and Domtar Cougar 100# Cover stock. The Cougar seems to do the job and at about 30 cents per 19 x 25 inch sheet it’s affordable. But what would the same print on BFK Rives paper (at more than ten times the cost) look like?

So I started making lists of combinations of things I’d see; inks and papers that aren’t readily available and I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could see a wide variety of these at once? Maybe I’m alone here, but I feel like such a resource would give me a head start in custom mixing inks for projects and choosing ink and paper for a print. I think a good target would be 50 different swatch pages.

Increased Water Load Swatch

Simulated swatch with increasing amounts of water

Simulated swatch with increasing amounts of water

I know from experience that too much water can make an ink dry with a bit of crazing and on thinner paper cause the substrate to wrinkle. But where is the line? TW Graphics recommends no more than 10% additional water by weight to reduce viscosity. The above image shows how additional water loads might affect an opaque ink.

Light Ink/Dark Paper Swatch

White ink on black swatch

Simulated swatch showing three passes of white ink on black

Sometimes white or light colored paper just doesn’t fit the bill, but lighter colors can be tricky to print on a dark substrate. Here’s a basic example of what three hits of white Speedball ink might look like on dark paper. Can TW Graphics Hi-Hide do the job in one hit? How about printing a white base coat on dark paper prior to printing colors?

Simulated CMYW ink on black paper

Simulated process colors on a white under base on black paper

Like Ink Color Across Manufacturers

Swatch of blue inks

Simulated blue inks of different manufacturers

The different combinations of process inks would show some comparisons across ink manufacturers, but how would the cheapest ink look compared to the more expensive ink on the same kind of paper?

Interference and Specialty Ink Swatch

Simulated swatch of interference inks

Simulated swatch of interference inks

There are also a number of metallic, fluorescent, glow in the dark, and other specialty inks worth seeing in person before investing in a large enough to sample to try. The Golden Screen Printing Medium is designed to work with all Golden Acrylic paints. One of the options that seems unique to their line are interference paints. These interference paints look different and varying angles, often reflecting their their complimentary color, and also look different depending on light and dark backgrounds. With a single 8oz jar running upwards of $20 (then mixed 1:1 with printing medium), it could be an expensive test alone to see if it might be good for use with a print.

Swatch Challenges and Creation

With all the simulated samples above I stuck to a single format: 6 x 9 inch pages with 3 inch circles. This would allow for using a single screen with eight 3-inch circles to produce eight copies of any swatch on one 18 x 24 (or slightly larger) sheet. This also means a new screen doesn’t have to be burned for most of the combinations.

I’m still unsure about how much of the rest of it works. Maybe the pages are hand numbered and correlate to a master list of what each swatch is. I considered using a laser printed label to affix to the back of each swatch, but maybe the adhesive would react negatively with the paper over time. Maybe the swatches are cut down to 5.5 x 8.5 inches and hole-punched for inclusion in a mini binder. Or maybe it would be more useful if the swatches were smaller (4 x 6 maybe) and full bleed so that they can be laid out on top of one another.

Simulated full bleed swatch in 4 x 6 format with full bleed

Simulated full bleed swatch in 4 x 6 format with full bleed

The primary combinations I’ve dreamed up already are as follows:

  • CMYK straight inks (or mixed with medium as recommended) from four ink makers
  • CMYK as above with pigment reduced 50% with compatible base
  • CMYK as above with pigment reduced 66%
  • 1-color opaque ink reduced w/ water 10% by weight from four ink makers
  • 1-color opaque ink reduced w/ water 25% by weight from four ink makers
  • Like color (single pigment if possible) ink from four ink makers side by side
  • CMYK on a neutral gray flatstock
  • CMYK on a kraft tone (or color) flatstock
  • Golden Acrylic Interference colors on white flatstock
  • Golden Acrylic Interference colors on black flatstock
  • Metallic Inks (possibly on white and black, possibly mixed w/ colors)
  • Overlapping white on black
  • TW Graphics glossy inks w/ varying amounts of flattening powder
  • Process halftone images printed with different combinations of screen angles

My focus is on water based screen printing inks and the four I’m more interested in testing are Speedball, Daler-Rowney, Golden, and TW Graphics. Jacquard is also another possibility as is Nazdar even though they are solvent based.

I’ve shared this idea if a few Facebook groups and on Reddit. It’s received a number of “thumbs up”, but very few people have actually said, “Yes, I like this and want this.” The next step is probably to figure out exactly which inks and papers get tested and what it would cost to produce a complete set. Maybe this is something that works best when 3-4 different print studios produce a section of it or maybe to keep things consistent it needs to be done in the same place.

After I crunch some numbers I might reach out to some other printers, but I’d really love to hear some feedback right now. What other combinations would you like to see? What is a fair price point to purchase such a thing? What size/format is ideal to you? Is this a complete waste of time? Let me know!

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