custom van son rubber base pantone ink


I’m a newb to letterpress, and I recently ordered a custom Rubber Base Pantone. The color I ordred is 5483 which is like an desaturated teal.

The can I received was filled with a very very dark ink. When I put it on some paper, it looked dark blue. Is there anything in particular I need to do? Or are the inks supposed to be ready for use straight from the can?

Any help would be appreciated. Thank you!

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You won’t always get an accurate sense of the color from seeing it in volume in the can.
Put a dab on your finger and tap it out on the sheet you’ll be printing on to get a better idea of how it will print.

Most inks are now formulated for use on offset presses, which lay down a much thinner ink film than letterpress. Usually a color mixed to the Pantone book will require the addition of opaque white (not transparent) to lighten the color hue of the ink to a point where the thicker ink density will yield the same final color.

I usually will use an ink knife to drag out a stripe of ink on matte finish or well finished uncoated stock to give myself an idea of how the ink color will look on the sheet. I find this gives me a bigger “sample” of ink color to compare against the Pantone book and still have the ink thickness that I would find in a letterpress solid.

I find it good practice to keep a 2” speedball brayer and a test block or test polymer plate around, as well as a piece of glass and a 4” razor scraper. Obviously, you need some pieces of printing paper as well, the same type you’ll be printing on.

The way I show people to test ink has nothing to do with actually inking up the printing press’s inking system; rather, I roll out a small amount of ink by hand using the speedball brayer and I try to make it much the same thickness/consistency I would need with a letterpress (time and experience will show you how much this actually is).

Then I ink up the test plate or block by hand, giving it one pass, and I print it once (making sure my press has the inking system lifted up- I test this on a vandercook).

It’s much easier to scrape up the slab, clean a tiny 2” speedball brayer, than it is to remove all the ink from the large inking system on a vandercook (or wose, C&P Model N with a fountain, like I have), and it’s quicker to tell.

You repeat this, changing and tweaking your color, until you’re happy with the ink’s hue, density, and darkness/lightness. From there forward, it’s a matter of inking up the press itself.

So, you just add ink to the press’s inking system and put your real plate down and try to match the coverage.

This simple system/method has served me well over the years and saved a lot of time and solvent; especially on tricky light colors or others that are not so simply to guess from a draw-down.

Also it’s worth noting that if you’re planning to print a light color that is a PMS, opaque white and transparent white have VERY different reactions with the ink- and often, opaque white added to a black will produce a cooler/colder/bluer result than transparent mixing white will. Opaque white is also much stronger obviously, so be sparing with the white and mix up slowly if you’re using opaque white.

Thank you all for your comments! They were all so helpful! I’d rather learn it the right way, so I don’t waste time or materials doing it the wrong way.

So I decided to call my local Van Son dealer and explained my situation to him. He then let me come out there (the shop was closed but he was in on his day off finishing up some jobs) and added extender to the ink, lightening it a bit. He showed me how they would sample it, and we just kept adding extender until the color was to my liking. I’ve learned so much from just watching him. Best of all, he didn’t charge me for adding the extender. If you need an ink specialist in Southern California, let me know. He’s a great guy and very accomodating!

Your tips were all very thorough! Going forward I’m going to keep them in mind. Thanks again.

I’m assuming extender = transparent white probably?

Glad to hear he could help you. Maybe since he knows you’re printing with a letterpress now, future ink orders will be more in line with what that means. You should be sure to let him know.

You always want to keep in mind that virtually all printing ink is basically transparent (there are a few rare exceptions like gold and silver, and opaque white and mixes made with lots of opaque white). As mentioned above by Mike, letterpress printing lays down a thicker layer of ink than offset (which is what the Pantone system is designed for), so most ink colors will look a shade or so darker when printed letterpress.
For example, your PMS 5483, regardless of how dark it may appear in the can, probably would look close to 5473 if you put it on the press and print with it. I usually suggest ordering a shade lighter than you want, in this case 5493. If you mixed some of the 5483 that you ordered with an equal amount of transparent white, you’d get 5493, which is probably roughly what your helpful local dealer did.

Dave (the Ink in Tubes guy)

@HavenPress I’m assuming it’s transparent white also.

@Dave Robinson you’re absolutely right! I should have figured to order a shade lighter. He did end up mixing it up until the shade became closer to the 5493.

Hopefully in the future I will be mixing my own inks, but it’s also great to learn the process of ordering from a dealer.

Thanks again for expanding my knowledge, guys. :)

Fyi to all. The correct term regarding what you are looking at when you open up a can of ink is - masstone.

I was taught by ink makers to take a bit of the ink mix on the tip of your finger and tap out a varying thicks of ink onto the stock you intend to use. When trying to get a color right you have to pay attention to the masstone and the undertone, which is the color created by the substrate the ink lays on. By using this method rather than a roller I have always been able to match color to paper very precisely. I also always use sunlight to match color, because florescent and other modern illumination will change the color you see rather dramatically. I have always found that the color mixing guides are pretty accurate for either offset or letterpress, but the color of the paper is not taken into consideration enough. Details are what printing is all about.


thanks for correct terminolgy Ted-had forgotten!

that’s why i don’t use Pantone Colors for letterpress work. Pantone was formulated for offset litho, and never is exactly quite right on a letterpress…. which results in having to do all of the above mentioned remedies.

In my humble viewpoint, the zillion-colors of the offset litho processes are slightly out of sync with the older technology of letterpress anyway. One of the charms of letterpress lies in it’s inprecision, and it’s dependence on the skill / eye / judgement of the human operator. When you try to use make letterpress the functional equivalent of offset throught the use of standardized, precise color matching you lose a lot of the characteristics that make it unique.

I’m NOT saying that one shouldn’t use a lot of of color in one’s work. i LOVE color, as any one who has seen my work can tell you…. I’m just not a big fan of standardization (or of designers who love standardized colors!)