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Is white ink becoming cool?

David Bowen 30 Sep 2015

DavidBowenProfileAlthough the technology has been around for a while, it’s only recently that printing with white ink has become popular. More and more projects that I am involved in at Bigger Printing are incorporating white ink in some capacity. Clearly word of mouth is spreading about the results, but what is special about white ink? In fact, why use white ink at all?

Traditional large format printing uses CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black – or Key) to generate the spectrum of colour required for the print. As CMYK printing does not produce white, the process is designed around printing onto a white material, and when the CMYK print sits on top of the white material, the colours are true. If the material is not white (such as a coloured Foamex panel, or a clear vinyl), the CMYK colours lack vibrancy and density as the white they are used to is missing.

White vinyl could be used in some circumstances to provide the white required (such as on clear vinyl), however the results are limited, and production time increases.

So what difference does printing with white ink provide?

1. Direct printing to non-white materials – without a lack of colour vibrancy

If a design is predominately black, it might make sense to use black Foamex as the basis for the print as this will provide a rich, dense black for the display. White ink can be printed directly to the black Foamex WhiteInkPrintSmallfor white content of the design. Also, by printing white ink underneath any CMYK colour, colour vibrancy will be kept as if the print was direct to standard white Foamex. The image of Jimi Hendrix at the left of this article was printed at Bigger Printing in just white ink on black composite aluminium, creating a print with a great contrast range.

2. Mixing white ink and CMYK together to created intricate frosted vinyl displays

Frosted cast vinyl is very popular as the basis for many window displays. Designs are becoming more complex and intricate which slows production time, and increases the chance that any small elements could be lost or damaged during the production and installation processes. By mixing white ink and CMYK together, a printed frosted effect vinyl can be created allowing intricate designs to be produced with less weeding out required. Production time and installation time improves, and the density of the frosted effect can be manipulated to suit the environment.

3. Printing onto clear materials – without backing the print in white vinyl

Printing in reverse onto clear materials such as Perspex allows a graphic to be printed onto the back of the material, therefore protecting it from the elements. As the clear material does not provide any white, previously a flood of white vinyl would have been required. Instead of white vinyl, white ink can be used to cover the design where required, or just in specific areas of the print. The only option when using white vinyl would be to cover the whole of the Perspex panel. Using white ink allows for more creativity as the white ink can be limited to certain areas of the panel, revealing the clear material in specific areas if required.

That might sound a little complicated, and to help explain white ink a little more, Bigger Printing has created a short video ‘Explore the possibilities of printing with white ink’ showing some of the possibilities that printing with white ink provides.

There are many more ways white ink can be used, possibly too many to list. But what about the downsides of using white ink?

1. Speed of printing
Although faster than using white vinyl to back clear vinyl for example, printing with white ink is slower than printing using just CMYK as the printer needs to print the white ink layer(s) as well as the CMYK layer, therefore print times are slightly higher when using white ink.

2. White ink printing requires specialist printers
To print white ink, specific printers capable of printing white ink and CMYK are required. These machines are expensive, and not common among printers. At Bigger Printing, we have had our Arizona 360XT with white ink capability since May 2012.

3. Artwork set-up can be different from standard CMYK
Some of the different uses of white ink require a particular artwork set-up that is specific for that chosen production method. Other uses of white ink can be completed with standard print-ready CMYK PDFs, however, for the more complicated processes, the artwork set-ups require technical input, which not all designers could be comfortable with. At Bigger Printing, we have produced this video below ‘How to set up artwork for white ink’ to help explain a common artwork set-up for printing with white ink.

As with any technology, there are positives and negatives, however, the negatives are small in comparison to the benefits that white ink provides. A little longer print time seems to be acceptable for displays that stand apart from standard CMYK prints by utilising materials other than the norm.

So consider the possibilities white ink provides, be imaginative with how the materials are used and produce creative, impactful displays.

David Bowen
Head of Brand and Marketing
The Bigger Printing Company

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