IDROP (Is this Design Reproducible on Press): White Ink Is NOT White Paper


In my previous Dieline article “IDROP/9 Steps to Better Press Outcomes” I briefly touched on the use of white ink as a primary and critical component in the design realization process. I’d like to expand on that now.

At Inwork, over the past 10 years, we’ve executed hundreds of designs on clear and metalized substrates, for nearly as many brands. What always amazes me is how little white ink and its variables are considered in the design process, in spite of a designer’s best intentions.

Often, artwork is offered for concept and design review using unrealistic renderings, either on-screen or printed using high-end inkjet printers on very white papers.

Subsequently, upper management and marketing partners fall in love with a concept bound to disappoint upon commercialization because it fails to be producible on press, and falls far short of the idealized expectation set.

I've said this before and it bears repeating… “White ink is not white paper.”

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As it turns out, few factors affect the perception of color more than white. The “whiteness” of the viewing light, the white point of a computer screen, paper, plastic or ink, are all completely different animals.

In the end, nothing kills a beautiful design faster than not having enough white ink supporting color on a clear or metalized substrate. The simple illustration below simulates how color appears when printed over various opacities of white ink.

The simple illustration below simulates how color appears when printed over various opacities of white ink.

12_12_12_WHITE OPACITY2.jpg
12_12_12_WHITE OPACITY2.jpg

As you can see, color is altered radically by the amount of white support.

So, what is required to render the proper outcome on-press? First, consider, what is your intent?

Do you want bright, strong colors popping off a dark product? Does your design require soft tonal color areas that need to have white behind them to be seen?

Another is, how does the design interplay with the label substrate, the primary structure, and the product color contained within it?

All these factors will have bearing on realizing your design as intended. A white with soft tonal detail might work well enough on a metallized substrate, but fail completely on a clear one.

Then consider what kinds of whites and how many stations are available to you on press.

Our clients are often surprised to learn artwork they intend to execute as 7/c+ varnish, requires 10/c (or more)+ varnish to render properly in a production environment.

For example:

This looks like an 8 color job “on your monitor:”


+ 1 Spot

+ White

+Cold foil

+ Var

But to render a design properly your printer may need to “split” whites and spot color elements into “line and tone,” and add a station for a primer over the foil to capture your design intent accurately, which in production reality could be many more print stations than you originally anticipated.

Your “print feasible” spec may look more like this:


+ 1 Spot (Line*)

+ 1 Spot (Tone**)

+ White (Line*)

+ White (Tone**)

+ Cold Foil/Adhesive

+ Primer

+ Var

* Line (100% laydown of white/color)

**Tone (percentages/tints of white/color)

Too often, this necessary “splitting ” gobbles up available press stations quickly, and compromises your printer’s ability to render your intent within quoted specifications and budget.

A pre-pro call with pre-media and print partners to assure a design will have as few issues as possible is optimum to knock out many of these factors proactively, but this isn’t always an option, particularly when regional/global print partners are involved. So it pays to have a basic understanding of white ink and it’s general implications in production. Because as we all know, disappointment is an ugly, time-consuming, expensive fix once a design hits a press for a trial, or final run.

To make matters worse, every print process has limits, and strengths that will need to be considered in order to successfully create a winning press outcome.

Although this is a greatly simplified example, Lithography holds the most transparent white within it’s print process, and would be on one end of the spectrum. Silkscreen, the most opaque process, would be on the opposite end.

I’ve included these two print processes for reference, but there are many variables and exceptions when it comes to white coverage. (Particularly in the print methods that fall in-between Litho and Silkscreen—like Flexo, Letterpress and Gravure.)

To compare Silkscreen versus Litho whites, the illustration below shows this general point. If you take away anything from this article it should be this.

12_12_12_WHITE OPACITY.jpg
12_12_12_WHITE OPACITY.jpg

The general principal concerning white ink is this, the more ink you put down the less detail can be rendered.

Silkscreen printing can lay down a very thick, opaque white. Great for solid areas underneath color, or for type on top of other colors, but it won’t hold those lovely wispy tones under and around your illustration.

Litho can print halftones beautifully, but ink laydown is so minimal that your tones may look washed out or gray compared to the eye-popping white you’d intended.

So, as a designer, you say ”Can’t the printer just figure this mess out? The answer is yes, and no.

A printer will help find a way to make the design happen, but you empower them to provide you with a less than optimum outcome if you don’t do your due diligence understanding realistic outcomes based on what’s technologically feasible from the start.

Far worse, you design something your client falls in love with, sells into upper management and at the end of the day; they don’t have the budget to print in production.

So, study. Do your homework.

If you have doubts, look at similar package format examples of what’s currently in-market to develop a realistic aesthetic baseline for what’s doable in any given print process you may need to engage.

Good luck!

By Lonnie Brawer, Inwork VP of Innovation