Ink Printing Knowledge

Types of Ink | Coatings | Special Image Effects

  • Ink is available in dozens of standard colors. The standard colors may vary between label manufacturers, so consult your label supplier for their list of standard colors.
  • If a non-standard ink color is required, you may ask the label supplier to match a specific sample or you can provide a Pantone Matching System (PMS) number. The PMS book contains hundreds of color choices. Some colors are much more expensive than others so an upcharge may be applied if certain colors are required. If the ink has to match a specific color sample where a PMS color cannot be used, your upcharge will generally be more expensive.
  • The following is a list of some of the standard ink colors provided by many label suppliers:

Process Yellow
012 Pantone Yellow
165 Orange
Warm Red
032 Red
185 Red
199 Red
Rubine Red
Process Magenta
Rhodamine Red
464 Brown
470 Brown

Pantone Purple
Reflex Blue
286 Blue
072 Pantone Blue
293 Blue
Process Blue
Process Cyan
Pantone Green
347 Green
423 Gray
Process Black

  • The ink can be applied in various ways:
    • Spot Color - colors applied using separate plates to add color in specific areas, each plate having a different image that is printed.
    • Duotones - two halftone images, which were produced using different screen angles, that are printed over each other. Duotones are generally printed in black and another color.
    • Tritones - three halftone images, produced at different screen angles, which were made from the same image and then printed over each other in three different colors.
    • Quadtones - four halftone images, produced at different screen angles, which were made from the same image and then printed over each other in four different colors.
    • Process Color - four process colors, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, printed on top of each other. Each color uses the same image produced at varying intensities, to reproduce a full color image.
    • High Fidelity Color (Hi-Fi) - a method of color printing which utilizes additional process ink colors to produce a greater range of color.
    • Prismatic Ink - the blending of two or more colors in a single printing unit. This produces a blend of color that is difficult to duplicate. It is most often used as a security feature.

View Samples of Special Ink Features

Note: Ink colors may vary when printed on different facestocks. A color will look different on a matte litho facestock than it will on a high gloss facestock. On a label/form combination the ink may appear different on the form than it does on the label. An adjustment in the ink color may have to be made on one or the other if matching the color is critical.

Types of Ink

Different facestocks and different printing processes will require the use of different types of ink. There is ink formulated for different printing processes, such as offset, flexography, letterpress, rotogravure and screen printing. The finish, absorbency, texture, printer type and intended use of the label will all be factors in what type of ink should be used. For more details on different types of ink, see Materials - Inks & Coatings - Ink Types. Your manufacturer will know what ink is appropriate for the facestock and printing process being used.

Note: Labels that go through a laser printer need to be printed in heat resistant ink.

Specialty Inks

  • UV Inks - UV inks provide denser ink coverage than conventional inks. They cause minimal dot gain, resulting in excellent quality when printing fine lines, vignettes and process color. The ink must be cured by a UV light source, which hardens the ink rather than the ink drying as it does when conventional inks are used. UV ink also provides rub resistance, chemical resistance, color consistency and opacity. A negative aspect of UV inks is that it has environmental issues which can cause skin irritations and allergic reactions.
  • Glitter Ink - Glitter ink contains flucks of shinny mylar that result in a printed image with a shiny reflective look. This ink is used on labels to create special effects.
  • Metallized Ink - The use of metallized inks can give your label a distinctive look. They can give your label the look of foil. Different types of metallic powders are blended into the ink such as aluminum powder to create the look of silver and bronze powder to create the look of gold.

For more details on specialty inks, see Materials - Inks & Coatings - Specialty Inks.


Coatings are used for several purposes. They are used to protect the label from exposure to moisture, chemicals, scuffs and scratches, exposure to extreme temperatures and frequent handling. They are also used to improve the appearance of the label and to make it more receptive to ink to provide a better print surface. Coatings cannot protect against color fading caused by over exposure to the sun and it cannot make paper or foil stock more durable to outdoors weather conditions. Among the most popular coatings are silicone, varnishes, aqueous coatings, UV coatings, and lamination.


Silicone coating is a polymer material that repels adhesive. It is applied to the liner layer of a pressure sensitive label, acting as a release coating which allows the label to be removed from the liner. It is also used as a release coating that is applied to the face of a linerless label to prevent the labels from sticking to each other when wound on the roll.


Varnish is a thin, liquid protective coating applied during the printing process or as an off-line process. Varnishes are usually colorless, but sometimes they are tinted to achieve a desired effect. Varnish enhances the appearance of the label and adds protection. It provides limited protection against cracking, peeling and flaking which is part of every day handling. It will protect against refrigerator and freezer environments but does not provide protection from outside weather conditions. Varnishes can be applied as an all-over coat or a spot coat to highlight specific areas of a printed piece.

A disadvantage of varnish is that many of them are solvent based. Solvent based means that they emit VOCs while they are being applied which can be a health hazard for the press operator unless the proper safety precautions are followed. Another disadvantage is that varnishes tend to yellow over time if they are formulated with tung or linseed oil. Varnishes with alkyd formulations will not yellow, but they are not as glossy or as hard as tung or linseed oil.

Aqueous Coatings

Aqueous coatings are usually applied during the printing process and can be applied as an all-over coat or in patterns or spot coatings. Like varnishes, they offer protection for the printed document and provide numerous effects for print applications. Aqueous coatings are available in gloss, matte, and satin finishes. Among the advantages that aqueous coatings have over solvent base varnishes is that they will not yellow over time and they are less toxic and emit fewer VOCs.

UV Coatings

UV coatings come in a liquid or paste form and remain as a liquid or paste until exposed to ultra-violet light. The printed page is covered with UV coating and is then exposed to the UV light which causes photoinitiators within the coating to immediately react and harden the coating into a protective finish. It protects against scuffs, is resistant to light moisture, chemicals and solvents. UV coating provides the best surface properties and protection for printed surfaces. It also enhances the quality of print. The graphics are sharper and colors are more vibrant.


Lamination is the bonding of a plastic film, by use of heat and pressure, to the label after it is printed and the ink is dry. Lamination will make the label more durable and adds protection against scratches and abrasions. It also provides resistance against chemicals and outside weather conditions. The lamination can have a gloss or matte finish. Each will have a different affect on the appearance of the product.

Digital Printable Coatings

Label stock is available with coatings that provide a surface suitable for digital printing. Paper and film can be coated for digital printing. Properties of digital printable stocks should include a good shelf life and a surface suitable for high quality printing. Consult with your supplier on the availability of digital printable label stock.

For more details on types of coatings, see Materials - Inks & Coatings - Coating Types.

Special Imaging Effects

There are other ways to add special effects or images to your label other than with ink. Two special effects are blind embossing and foil stamping.

Blind Embossing

  • A process used to create a raised image on the label to give it a three-dimensional look.
  • The raised image is created using heat, pressure and a metal die.
  • Blind embossing is done without registering to ink, foil, or die cutting.

Foil Stamping

  • A process of bonding foil to paper to create a special foil image.
  • The bonding of the foil and paper is created using heat, pressure and a metal die.

Blind embossing and foil stamping can be used in combination with traditional ink on your labels. When using these special effects you should avoid using small or reversed out images. Small type that is too close together may fill in. Avoid using heavily coated or varnished labels. If foil stamped labels will need to run through a laser printer, be sure to notify your supplier of this. For more details on embossing, see Finishing - Embossing. For more details on foil stamping, see Finishing - Foil Stamping.

Note: On new orders you will have to allow for additional delivery time to allow for a die to be produced. Be aware that there are generally additional costs involved also.


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