Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


How Ink Is Made
September 30, 2010 6:41 PM   Subscribe

How Ink Is Made is a visually stunning, SLYT look at the involved, far-more-physical-than-I-would've-thought ink-making process.
posted by disillusioned (76 comments total) 111 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is like the crayon video for adults. Oooooooooh.
posted by Madamina at 6:58 PM on September 30, 2010 [24 favorites]


Gorgeous. I adore seeing how things are made, especially when they come in such pretty colors.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:00 PM on September 30, 2010


I don't know which I love more, the visuals, or the accent!
posted by aubilenon at 7:10 PM on September 30, 2010


That made my afternoon, cheers disillusioned!
posted by supercrayon at 7:10 PM on September 30, 2010


Oh, how I love the painfully/gloriously Canadian.

And watching things get made.
posted by MadamM at 7:11 PM on September 30, 2010


Just from reading the text of the FPP, I knew it would be good, but I didn't know it would be THAT FUCKING AWESOME. Thank you for posting this. Gorgeous.
posted by nevercalm at 7:16 PM on September 30, 2010


And absolutely gorgeous how he manages to be simultaneously sincere, passionate, and joyful about it. Thanks!
posted by Ahab at 7:17 PM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


I love the guys in the polyester shirts, looking perpetually grumpy. I bet if you got them started on how the three roller machine works, you couldn't shut them up, but you wouldn't want to, just for the smile on their faces.
posted by fatbird at 7:24 PM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't know which I love more, the visuals, or the accent!

What accent?

posted by ceribus peribus at 7:27 PM on September 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


I thought I was lame for watching printing videos on YouTube. That is AWESOME and I want to show it to everyone that I know.
posted by elvissa at 7:33 PM on September 30, 2010


What an inspiring way to think about one's work: craftsmanship, care, usefulness.
posted by apartment dweller at 7:36 PM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


That was a fairly enjoyable commercial. Mostly due to the excellent music choice.
posted by Xezlec at 7:43 PM on September 30, 2010


The ink seems far nobler than the eventual throwaway crap that it will be used to print.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:44 PM on September 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


Pepsi, uh, cyan magenta yellow and black.
posted by delmoi at 7:45 PM on September 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Pepsi 286 C
posted by meech at 7:49 PM on September 30, 2010


Very nice. I bet the process is even more complex than he lets on - probably different pigments have different chemical properties and require different binders and stabilizers, and all these different formulations have to play nice together in the printing process. We take so much for granted, but the glossy saturated colors on our junk mail would have been worth a lot of money 500 years ago.

The history of pigments, paints and fabric dyes is surprisingly interesting. The human love of bright colors has driven a lot of trade, exploration, and colonial expansion. (Not to mention the origin of the whole field of organic chemistry.) The quest for pigments is overshadowed by the search for gold, silver, gems, and less glamorous industrial raw materials but cochineal, a source of brilliant red fabric dye, was Colonial Mexico's second most valuable export after silver.

A good read if you're interested in political intrigues, colonial economics, and bright colors: A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire by Amy Butler Greenfield.
posted by Quietgal at 7:52 PM on September 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


Pepsi Baystate Blue

AM I RITE

not baystate-ist
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:53 PM on September 30, 2010


That actually made me hungry. Be sure to watch in high def.
posted by empath at 7:54 PM on September 30, 2010


Accent?

What a lovely film. And I knew, I just knew, from the sneak peeks throughout the film, what their favourite colour is.

They're just up the street from me. I wonder if they hold field trips for adults.
posted by maudlin at 7:54 PM on September 30, 2010


hell yeah Quietgal, thank you.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:54 PM on September 30, 2010


That was a fairly enjoyable commercial. Mostly due to the excellent music choice.

FYI, it was Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, 2nd movement.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:02 PM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


on making ink, how complex was the process the phoenician people used in making their famous deep purple ink from sea snails about the time before christ. as in B.C.
posted by tustinrick at 8:04 PM on September 30, 2010


(and belatedly I see that the music is identified on the youtube page.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:08 PM on September 30, 2010


When I was younger, one of my best friend's father owned a printing company. Playing with ink as you see them do in the video is a nifty experience. I've yet to find a comparable substance that replicates the smoothness. I am so glad to finally realise how it gets so smooth.

Also, the smell of all the driers and whatnot used in the ink. I'm sure it's not really all that healthy but it's a sweet smell that could instantly take me back to random ink-smearing days of childhood. Thanks for posting this.
posted by glip at 8:10 PM on September 30, 2010


The ink seems far nobler than the eventual throwaway crap that it will be used to print.

heh - you should see what happens to the marvelous pristine 4 pantone colors after the in house ink guy gets done mixing it and half-experienced presspeople "doctor" it to run it through half-shitty units that won't reproduce colors accurately, fit systems that clog and "ghost", anilox rolls that aren't cleaned well, worn out doctor blades and 50-60 year old converting presses that are way outdated - and then i have to search the pressroom for swatch books that don't have pages ripped out of them so i can qc the colors i need to qc

the stuff arrives in 50 gallon drums - and then bad things happen to it

it's amazing we get the colors close as often as we do

but thanks, disillionsioned - let's just say i found this professionally educating and helps me understand an aspect of my job a little better

---

What an inspiring way to think about one's work: craftsmanship, care, usefulness.

*sigh*
posted by pyramid termite at 8:10 PM on September 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


That was the best ad money that company ever spent.
posted by incessant at 8:14 PM on September 30, 2010


Accent?

A lott of consonantts are getting pronouncedd att the endds of those wordds, so I'm guessing he's from Alberta or Saskatchewan. Funny that our cowboys have proper elocution, eh? Down East we're awwys droppin' 'em out 'n' shi'. It could be an Anne Shirley PEI thing, though.

That said, the factory is in Vaughan, ON. Maybe that's the Canada's Wonderland twang?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:22 PM on September 30, 2010


on making ink, how complex was the process the phoenician people used in making their famous deep purple ink from sea snails about the time before christ. as in B.C.

Tyrian Purple
posted by b1tr0t at 8:23 PM on September 30, 2010


Also: I was hoping to find out about the pigments themselves. Are cephalopods involved?

ARE CEPHALOPODS INVOLVED???
posted by Sys Rq at 8:24 PM on September 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


That was quite beautiful – nicely directed and scripted, lovingly shot and featuring my all-time-favourite LVB concerto. But... I couldn’t help but imagine Mitchell and Webb or the League of Gentlemen guys appearing as on-screen talent. Shown in the context of a comedy program with English accents and faces accompanying that exact script, those exact shots, that exact music – that would be just about the funniest thing I’ve seen all year.
posted by bunglin jones at 8:27 PM on September 30, 2010


I can't see these heavy colors and not have the smell behind my sinuses. My old man started a print shop in the mid-eighties and it's still going strong. Some of people from the beginning are still there too. When I go there today they're still holding sheets up to the light, comparing to Pantone cards, seeing distinctions that most people would never see. And scrapping the sheet, grumbling a little, and then changing a dial, running another half dozen passes through the press, checking it again, making sure that their coverage is even, that nothing is bleeding, shifting, or ending up where they don't want it. Taking their time with the setups. And once the product is where it needs to be, loading up the paper, and starting it up for good. They check the first impression, just to be sure. And every once in a while as the run progresses they grab a sheet falling to the stack, check it in the light, and when satisfied, discard it, back to watching the press, so steeped in the fumes around them that they barely notice this heady, synthetic, and altogether wonderful smell.
posted by seagull.apollo at 8:27 PM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Incredible video, half the time though I kept wondering how it was that both the employees and the floor managed to remain ink-free.
posted by jeremias at 8:34 PM on September 30, 2010


The science of colors, pigments and dyes is pretty incredible. This would be a good companion post to link, which is the epic story about the quest for colored bubbles.

I also recently learned that metals reflect light for the same reason that they can conduct electricity - lots of extra electrons.

I also grew up in a print shop, well, a screen printing shop. Pigments and dyes are fascinating, and often even quite expensive. We mixed a lot of our own colors and used well known textile printing inks called "plastisols" that are basically semi liquid polymers with solid pigments added. They never actually dry on their own and require heat or UV light to cure depending on the chemistry. We also used a lot of "waterbase" inks which are pigments in a semi-liquid aqueous solution containing massive quantities of industrial urea which is very stinky. Another ink we specialized in was discharge inks - basically a mix of waterbase with a special kind of bleach for printing on dark shirts, so that it bleached the printed area a lighter color before dying the fabric.

Frankly I hated all of those inks. Plastisol sticks to everything and even sometimes develops a static charge which allows it to jump from surface to surface. It never dries, it transfers to everything making it easy to ruin your clothes or the clothes you're printing - but thankfully you can blast it out and erase small quantities with acetone. Waterbase sticks too, but cleans up with soap and water, but it'll dye light fabrics like crazy and it can't really be washed out. Discharge also stinks and it'll bleach any dark fabrics it lands on and then dye it.

Since large volume textile printing is generally manic, fast paced work not onlike a sweatshop, and since screenprinting consumes vast quantities of thick ink and since a screen frame really can't hold that much ink - it all need replenishing very often. After trying gloves, pumps, spatulas and scoops the quickest way was to run around and grab handfuls of it from buckets and just throw it in the screen, with hand cleaning stations spread around the automatic press. I used to be up to my elbows in that stuff all day.
posted by loquacious at 8:38 PM on September 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


That was the best ad money that company ever spent.

And they didn't have to use a drop of ink.
posted by empath at 8:51 PM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


People who have passion for what they do are almost always interesting to listen to.
posted by mazniak at 8:51 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


What accent?

He's Canadian. And it's a thing that I (as a Canadian) think Canadians just have to point out. This American Life has a bitabout this compulsion of ours (national inferiority complex? just throwing that out there).

I actually wondered whether he was Canook when he started talking - thought he might be Minnesotan or upstate New York or some such, and then forgot about it. It was the "aboot" (which I used to vigorously deny) that really twigged it.

Anyhoo, corporate films are getting pretty highbrow these days, eh?
posted by Roachbeard at 8:51 PM on September 30, 2010


I push pixels for a living, and this makes me feel like I picked the wrong line of work. Gorgeous.
posted by endquote at 8:56 PM on September 30, 2010


My life suddenly feels so desaturated.
posted by marvin at 8:57 PM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Clearly this is a different process than the one used to make everyday printer ink, which (based on its cost by volume) is composed chiefly of pedigreed unicorn semen and weapons-grade saffron.
posted by unregistered_animagus at 9:01 PM on September 30, 2010 [12 favorites]


I also recently learned that metals reflect light for the same reason that they can conduct electricity - lots of extra mobile electrons.

To be more specific, since I know people likes them some specificity round these parts.
posted by Xezlec at 9:03 PM on September 30, 2010


Oh, I forgot to talk about our master ink mixer. His name was Jorge, a roundish medium build and perpetually jolly fellow. He was an older and recently immigrated relative of an employee who we originally hired because he needed a job and we needed lots of manual labor. Except he drank a lot of beer, even at work - which explains the round and jolly - but isn't so great around large industrial machinery and manual labor.

He didn't have any training, wasn't secretly a painter or anything - by all accounts and tales from his family he was a lifelong and rather dedicated borracho, so it was news to them, too that he could sure mix ink. I can't remember how that skill was discovered but he could naturally match almost any color by hand and eye, no scales, no computers, no cheat sheets. First try almost every time. I was never very good at mixing ink to match colors myself, but I have a well developed eye for shade and color, and I can spot fractions of shades of Pantones, easy.

He was so good it was spooky. But he could only do it after a few beers. Needless to say he got a raise, got taken off of manual labor and machinery and was allowed to drink beer at work. That guy saved us so much money in rejected mix batches it was incredible.
posted by loquacious at 9:04 PM on September 30, 2010 [16 favorites]


Thanks for this.

For some reason seeing the black ink being run through the test rollers was a very sensual experience.
posted by Severian at 9:07 PM on September 30, 2010


half-experienced presspeople "doctor" it to run it through half-shitty units that won't reproduce colors accurately

As someone who used to run a 6 color wide-web flexo press printing placemats and traycovers I've "doctored" my share of ink. A squirt of yellow, a dash of black, a splash of extender maybe a smidgen of de-foamer and you've got magic! There are two ways to match a color on press: 1) Keep turning switches on and off in the light booth until you find the magic combination or 2) Throw away the sample in the job packet and replace it with one from the current run - Bingo! perfect match.
posted by MikeMc at 9:26 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I actually wondered whether he was Canook when he started talking - thought he might be Minnesotan or upstate New York or some such, and then forgot about it. It was the "aboot" (which I used to vigorously deny) that really twigged it.

Protip:

There are parts of the US where people say something between "aboot" and "aboat," and go oat of the hoase. Usually people who say that have southern accents though -- Pat Robertson is sort of like that.

But you want an almost certain tip for Spot The Canadian? He called "process ink" proe-cess ink. Americans almost always say "process" as prah-cess.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:38 PM on September 30, 2010


Spikelee, you're most welcome. It's a bit off-topic here, but for me one of the most interesting things in that book was a discussion of why black is traditionally worn by judges, clerics, and other high-ranking officials. It turns out that black is one of the most difficult colors to dye fabric - even today, rich saturated black usually takes multiple dyebaths, starting with red or blue and overdyeing with black (which is why your black socks go red or blue at the toes and heels as the overdye wears off). It's easy to get dingy grey colors, but deep pure black was very hard and therefore very expensive. In Renaissance Europe, pure black clothing was a status symbol as much as red or purple, but somber black was more appropriate than gaudy bright colors for certain occupations. Black clothing meant the wearer had power and money beneath the veneer of austerity.

And the differences between paints/inks and dyes are really cool too, and the story of how aniline dyes were discovered and how synthetic dyes enabled the modern idea of fashion as something that changes every year or so ... sometimes the stuff we take for granted turns out to be really fascinating!

Loquacious, I didn't understand a word of that "metals reflecting light" link. Got anything in plain English?
posted by Quietgal at 9:38 PM on September 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


I also spent some summers growing up in the back of my father's small offset print shop. These images bring the smells right back. Thanks for this.
posted by manuelw at 9:57 PM on September 30, 2010


From the video: "You can see there's a lot more to ink making than just mixing two things together."

No. That's all there is to ink making. Ink is pigment plus a binder. Mix them together (technically, they are "mulled") and you have ink. There really isn't anything more. You can do it by hand with a hand muller, it's sort of like a big flat mortar and pestle. You grind against a flat surface, mulling the pigment into the binder. The real trick is making the pigments and the binder. They don't even make those, they just buy them by the barrel. Even their claims of magical mixing abilities to make thousands of Pantone colors, give me a break. There are 7 basic colors, you can mix any Pantone from those basic 7 Pantone colors. I hear Pantone added a few new mixing colors, that just makes it harder to mix colors.

loquacious, I could show you the magic trick to mixing any color in about 5 minutes. It's easy once someone shows you how. I'll give you a hint, you know that spot in the video where he mixes yellow, red, and purple? That's exactly how not to do it. The printers I learned from called that color "calf shit brown" and in art school we learned how to avoid it. It's the most basic color mistake, you mix a bunch of complementary colors (e.g. purple/orange) at random and everything turns to muddy brown. Every noob painter in art school churns out calf shit brown instead of color until someone shows them how to mix colors properly.

Here's the trick. You have 3 primaries in the additive color system, red yellow blue. You get a warm and cool variation of each color. This seems counterintuitive, how can you have a cool variant of a hot color like red? Easy. Alizarin Crimson is cool, Cadmium Red is warm. There are pairs for each primary color. Put two dollops of the cool/warm pair next to each other, drag them together until you get the primary color you want. Then do that with the secondary color you need to mix. Draw them together to get the color mix you want. Note that there are no complimentary colors here, no orange/purple, no green/red that ends up as calf shit brown. Once you get the main mix (the hue), you add white to get the value you want. It's so simple once you see it done. I struggled with color mixing in painting classes, then one day a grad student walked by my palette and asked me, "what the hell are you doing? Didn't anyone ever show you how to mix colors?" Uh, no, they didn't. So he showed me this color mix technique, and instantly my painting's colors became precisely what I wanted, instead of guesswork.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:58 PM on September 30, 2010 [10 favorites]


Loquacious, I didn't understand a word of that "metals reflecting light" link. Got anything in plain English?

Quietgal: Try this.
posted by loquacious at 10:10 PM on September 30, 2010


That was quite beautiful – nicely directed and scripted, lovingly shot and featuring my all-time-favourite LVB concerto. But... I couldn’t help but imagine Mitchell and Webb or the League of Gentlemen guys...

Hey, this is local paint for local people.
posted by armisme at 10:22 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


loquacious, I could show you the magic trick to mixing any color in about 5 minutes.

I get the theory behind that kind of color mixing, and that actually helps a bit, too. I can do that fairly well with standard primaries in watercolors, acrylics or oils, and I was pretty ok at mixing plastisols.

But the pigments we were working with in screen printing aqueous/waterbase ink didn't really work like that. There's an array of dozens of pigments in primaries, secondaries and... other? And they all came in little 12-16 oz jars so concentrated they all looked black. So we were basically talking about teaspoons and tablespoons of pigment (or maybe dye?) mixed in the bottom of a little paper cup which then went into a 5 to 55 gallon drum of semitransparent base, depending on how much we needed. The "white" part of the color came from the t-shirt itself in this instance, so we're basically working with transparent or semi-transparent dyes instead of truly opaque pigments.

Which generally meant a lot of adjusting up to the right color, and starting with too little pigment. We'd scrape a sample on a scrap of a discarded white shirt and run it through the curing oven to test for match. Then adjust up a little as needed, trying to be careful not to over-pigment it and ruin a batch of base or having to re-cut it with even more base or whatever. Profit margins in screen printing are really small.

Which is why Jorge's skills were really kind of insane. I've seen him nail a batch on a 55 gallon drum within a half a shade in one shot, just by eyeballing little dribbles of different pigments that all looked black at full strength into a paper cup. (We did try to enforce recording weights and recipes but our already hellish quality control suffered.)
posted by loquacious at 10:28 PM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'll give you a hint, you know that spot in the video where he mixes yellow, red, and purple? That's exactly how not to do it.

I'm a very poor artist (and I didn't know the technique you describe for mixing colors -- thank you for that) but even I was bewildered by that scene; "what in hell is he doing making mud out of those colors?" I charitably supposed that he was testing the physical handling properties of the inks because it certainly made no other sense.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:29 PM on September 30, 2010


I dunno. Maybe it is only mixing two things together like cds says...

But the impression I got from the video is that there is a LOT of consideration and fine tuning that goes into exactly what the end product of that process is. That sure, you can do it the fast and easy route, but you probably won't end up with something that has good coverage, even tone, and durability unless you pay CLOSE attention to a lot of factors which go beyond simply pounding pigment into carrier with a pestle.

It's not just about creating the right color. It's about having consistent results across thousands or millions of impressions.

Anyway, thanks for posting this. I had no idea that ink was more complicated than putting two things into an industrial Hobart mixer. Fascinating to watch.
posted by hippybear at 10:29 PM on September 30, 2010


quietgal, not having a go here, but there isn't necessarily much in plain English in some areas of ink/dye/color tech. As a hobby I collect (junk) antique glass, and then try to identify origin and manufacturing processes. It's fun but my ability to understand where something comes from and how it's made is often severely restricted by my inability to understand the physics of some of the coloring processes used. At times the the seemingly simple question of how a piece of glass came to be pink/orange/amber/violet is utterly beyond me. This provides the merest introduction to how complicated it can get. Follow the other links for optical physics madness..
posted by Ahab at 10:46 PM on September 30, 2010


I charitably supposed that he was testing the physical handling properties of the inks because it certainly made no other sense.

I find it sort of hard to believe that anyone working at an ink company wouldn't know that mixing those colors would create a crappy brown, so I assumed the camera-people thought that mixing red and yellow and blue looked more visually striking (to begin with, at least) than mixing some more useful combination of colors. A lot of PR stuff involves high-up people who generally never get their hands dirty posing with equipment that's been staged to look visually striking, not realistic. Similarly, despite all of the pictures you see, scientists rarely stand around in labcoats and goggles holding beakers of colored or glowing liquid (I mean sure, metals can make some gorgeous colors, and you wear a labcoat and goggles when necessary, but that's about it.)

Anyway, despite being very familiar with using paint, I'd never put much thought into how it was made. Damn, watching the ink go through those rollers was mesmerizing.
posted by ubersturm at 10:48 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm a very poor artist (and I didn't know the technique you describe for mixing colors -- thank you for that) but even I was bewildered by that scene; "what in hell is he doing making mud out of those colors?" I charitably supposed that he was testing the physical handling properties of the inks because it certainly made no other sense.

It would have to be the latter, or he was just messing around and showing off the lovely ink. CMYK process color never really gets mixed up like that, it's "mixed" by printing varying dot size and density in four different prints to simulate color mixing. CMYK color is a crazy bag o' science in itself. Most CMYK is actually semi-transparent and relies on the white substrate beneath to finish the color, so it's a weird mix of reflective/transmissive color and optics going on for it to work, which is why you hardly ever see CMYK on anything darker then newsprint or cheap magazine paper.

(My dad's shop used to do CMYK directly on t-shirts from plain old screen printing screens back before you could just print a photo on an inkjet on transfer paper. It was a huge pain in the ass. Doing it on paper is pretty difficult, doing it on t-shirts was really pushing the bleeding edge back then.)
posted by loquacious at 12:28 AM on October 1, 2010


Tangent: Here's a neat colour mixing article that i discovered today that somewhat visualises charlie don't surf's colour-matching "trick" comment.
posted by elphTeq at 1:39 AM on October 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


An intelligently engaging video and thoughtful thread.
posted by nickyskye at 3:49 AM on October 1, 2010


This is why i love mefi. Thanks.
posted by evil_esto at 4:06 AM on October 1, 2010


What evil_lesto said.
posted by kthanksbai at 5:15 AM on October 1, 2010


What bunglin jones said: It was at times difficult to see if this is intended as a gag video. Pan, tilt and crane is the new cowbell.

Thanks for the colour mixing hints here though; I had almost settled on screen-printing only primary colours since mixing is such a pita.
posted by monocultured at 5:44 AM on October 1, 2010


He's Canadian. And it's a thing that I (as a Canadian) think Canadians just have to point out.

Yeah, except according to their profiles, most of the people asking 'what accent?' are themselves Canucks... and aubilenon and MadamM, who together started this accent discussion, are out in the States.

Heh. I love y'all. (As a Canadian).

Anyway, loved the vid.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:08 AM on October 1, 2010


Interesting that the process, right up to friction testing, is about identical to the process for making paint. Not altogether surprising given that they both are medium + pigment. Tustinrick mentions the interesting history of a pigment, but nearly all those colors are pretty cool. As I've heard it, both Umber (Umbria) and Sienna refer to the local soil in each area and "raw" and "burnt" have to do with post-processing of the soil, a baking for the later causing oxidation of I believe iron. Its in every medium crayola box, nearly every kid remembers "raw umber" as a color because at that age: WTF is an Umber?

Some color experiments went wrong: toxic ingredients, agents that would blacken or brown over time, binders that didn't last. Lonardo da Vinci was notoriously known for using materials and methods that quickly degraded the art -- some within years -- in his hunt for better methods.

Its interesting that the Renaissance begins worrying about the vitality of its materials in the way it does: suggests that hope for a future has been restored after ages of ruin, that people want to collect things that will live a ways towards eternity.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 7:21 AM on October 1, 2010


They check the ink on the Inkometer.

That will keep me going all day.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:39 AM on October 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


(My dad's shop used to do CMYK directly on t-shirts from plain old screen printing screens back before you could just print a photo on an inkjet on transfer paper. It was a huge pain in the ass. Doing it on paper is pretty difficult, doing it on t-shirts was really pushing the bleeding edge back then.)

We're still doing them that way (on lp's & tshirts). Getting the registration right is an unbelievable pain in the ass. My boss will turn down any 4 color job less than about 5,000 pcs.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:03 AM on October 1, 2010


We're still doing them that way (on lp's & tshirts). Getting the registration right is an unbelievable pain in the ass. My boss will turn down any 4 color job less than about 5,000 pcs.

Yeah, that was about our bare minimum, too, with something like up to a 10% built in reject rate fee. We spent more time fine tuning register, ink viscosity and the hundred other parameters then we did printing, because it would change all day long as ambient temperature and humidity naturally changed throughout the working day. Heck, just the color separation fees were something like $500-1000 back then.

It turns out that the weave count of a t-shirt is very close to the line density count of the highest resolution halftone screen you could screen print, which led to Moire interference and muddy looking prints if you didn't do it just right.

I'm pretty sure they still screen print CDs and DVDs this way.
posted by loquacious at 8:31 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


No. That's all there is to ink making.
And food meets heat is all there is to cooking. bleh.
posted by bonaldi at 8:43 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, that was about our bare minimum, too, with something like up to a 10% built in reject rate fee. We spent more time fine tuning register, ink viscosity and the hundred other parameters then we did printing, because it would change all day long as ambient temperature and humidity naturally changed throughout the working day. Heck, just the color separation fees were something like $500-1000 back then.

Color separation is a breeze nowadays. B/T quality vector art and the adobe suite, that side of printing has gotten much cheaper. On the other side, we do have a DTG press for shirts, but we've never been able to get the thing to work for more than 1-2 shirts before it clogs again, so we still use the screen press.

With regards to the rest of the discussion:

The smell of ink is glorious. Working in a print shop is the closest thing I've ever had to a religious experience.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:55 AM on October 1, 2010


What I can't get over is just how clean the ink factory is! Doesn't look like they've ever spilled a drop.
posted by schmod at 10:34 AM on October 1, 2010


What I can't get over is just how clean the ink factory is! Doesn't look like they've ever spilled a drop.

Something tells me an ink factory probably has some cleaning solvents handy.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:59 AM on October 1, 2010


Yeah, I was really struck by how the workers clothes and hands weren't completely covered in ink. Even the guy who stirs and scrapes the ink with a simple hand-held paddle; clean clothes. Maybe they changed for the video?
posted by Nelson at 11:24 AM on October 1, 2010


I think that Jessie of "Breaking Bad" fame would have a great time in this factory.
posted by storybored at 12:42 PM on October 1, 2010


Color separation is a breeze nowadays. B/T quality vector art and the adobe suite, that side of printing has gotten much cheaper. On the other side, we do have a DTG press for shirts, but we've never been able to get the thing to work for more than 1-2 shirts before it clogs again, so we still use the screen press.

Now it has, yeah. This was back around 1987 to early 90s. We tried doing it ourselves by outputting to laser printer on paper and then blowing that up on a photostat camera, but obviously the resolution isn't nearly enough to maintain good dot size to cut/burn a screen stencil, and registration issues from optical distortion were large. As it was we were using really high mesh counts and capillary film emulsion instead of direct emulsion and it was still a major hassle.

We did successfully experiment with "simulated process" or hybrid index color separations but that's also old hat, now. They have plugins and scripts that do great index/hybrid separations in seconds. Back then we'd wrestle with Photoshop 1.0 for days on end trying to get good blends, crashes and overprints.

Screenprinting science has likewise come a long way, with better screens, better printing machines and better photoemulsions and inks. My dad still works in the industry as a rep and facilitator and flies all over the world setting up color matching systems designed for screenprinters that work with the other tech he supports.
posted by loquacious at 4:43 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh.. I missed this little tidbit..

The history of pigments, paints and fabric dyes is surprisingly interesting. The human love of bright colors has driven a lot of trade, exploration, and colonial expansion. (Not to mention the origin of the whole field of organic chemistry.)

I will do a shameless self-link here. Back in the heyday of Usenet, I wrote a completely bogus "History of Pigment" for a kid that asked me to do his homework for him. It's just horrible, I loaded it with bad grammar and irrational history. I think you'll find it amusing, especially the comments it got when I reposted it on my blog.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:38 PM on October 1, 2010


After trying gloves, pumps, spatulas and scoops the quickest way was to run around and grab handfuls of it from buckets and just throw it in the screen, with hand cleaning stations spread around the automatic press. I used to be up to my elbows in that stuff all day.

From my experience, at print shops, if you're found with any ink on your hands, you're demerited, I've never, in my screen shop, thrown ink on to a screen with my hand - plastisol is so hard to clean off.

A pint of plastisol can potentially print hundreds of shirts. You may be running a job of thousands, but still, I can't see very good form in the, "glob up by hand" method. Those yellow spatula things, that are like $2? Love them.
posted by alex_skazat at 7:13 PM on October 1, 2010


Now it has, yeah. This was back around 1987 to early 90s. We tried doing it ourselves by outputting to laser printer on paper and then blowing that up on a photostat camera, but obviously the resolution isn't nearly enough to maintain good dot size to cut/burn a screen stencil, and registration issues from optical distortion were large. As it was we were using really high mesh counts and capillary film emulsion instead of direct emulsion and it was still a major hassle.

I kind of wish it was still like that. It sounds more involved.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:48 PM on October 3, 2010


Speaking of the history of colour, I highly recommend a book called 'Mauve - How One Man Invented a Colour That Changed the World' by Simon Garfield. It's a biography of William Perkin who, in 1856, at age 18, by accident, isolated mauve dye from coal tar derivatives. After he made a fortune developing synthetic dyes, he returned to what he really wanted to do, which was Anglican theology. Perkin's was an interesting and largely forgotten life, and Garfield's writing is fascinating.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:52 PM on October 6, 2010


« Older Have you been thinking about what to do with all t...  |  BEER CAMP!... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments