Block print Archival - Ink - Pantone colors

Hi All,

I’m interested to get a better grip on what ‘archival’ exactly means when referring to printing inks for block printing. To the goal of selecting an ink for block printing. I’d like a source that uses PMS color designations and would have the four process colors.

I see a couple of sources i.e. Speedball (meets some criteria for block print archival), that has many colors, but seem to not have any direct correlation chart to PMS. I see commercial inks i.e. VanSon Holland with a few choices that could apply to block print making that are PMS designated colors, but I have been told/read somewhere that these are ‘commercial archival’ meaning colorfast for 180 days, not say several years with exposure to filtered light (like a block print hanging on a wall).

So, what’s the choice by brand of you block print people, that comes with PMS designations?


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As a fellow artist, I understand your desire to find archival materials. Most printmaking artists that I know of are far more concerned with the archival (acid free) nature of the paper they use than they are with the ink.

Colorfast and archival are likely very different. Since UV light is the usual suspect for the discoloration or fading of pigments, coated glass and low UV light sources often provides the protection needed. I know that the Francisco de Goya printmaking exhibition is only allowed filtered daylight during certain hours of the day to preserve the integrity of the ink and paper. His work has lasted some 200 years, and I very much doubt that he considered the archival or colorfast state of his materials.

If you have specific requirements, I believe you will have to ask each individual manufacturer. Here is the list I would start with.

Speedball - Don’t bother. This ink is trouble.

Daniel Smith - Artist relief inks. PMS is doubtful
Graphic Chemical and Ink - Artist relief ink. PMS unknown.
Faust Ink -
Van Son - Commercial relief ink. PMS
Flint - Commercial relief ink. PMS

I recommend the book “Red and Yellow Don’t Make Blue” by Michael Wilcox. In it he speaks to pigment permanence and color mixing. I never really understood the PMS mixing system until I understood that different pigments have different mixing qualities, ie., Process Blue has a green component to its color, whereas Reflex Blue has a violet component. Wilcox brings to painting a similar limited palette to that which has been used by printers for a great number of years. He also discusses the permanence of different pigments which are quite uniform in the industry which supplies powdered pigments to ink and paint manufacturers.


Block printing gets some benifit from ink film thickness that other printing processes do not. National Geographic Magazine required all inks used on the cover to be able to pass a 24 hour fadeometer test. Each hour was equal to one year in sun light. Back in the 50’s the magazine was printed by flatbed letterpress, at some point in the 60’s by web offset (harder to get those inks to pass). They maybe printing by gravure now, or at least some sections. Long story sorry. Point is it takes special dyes to make such inks fade resistant. Most off the shelf inks will not have used special dyes or pigments to achieve archival permanence. Yellows and reds are the weakest pigments for sun resistance.

And it’s probably worth noting that, if you’re going to mix your own colors from Pantone basic colors, the “0” basics (012 Yellow, 021 Orange, 032 Red, and 072 Blue) are more light-fast (or fade resistant) than the equivalent standard basic colors. 012 Yellow and 072 Blue are almost exact matches for Pantone Yellow and Reflex Blue and probably could be directly substituted in a mix.

Dave (the Ink in Tubes guy)

Thank you much for these thoughtful and informative answers. Will

One factor that affects the archival permanence and color-fastness of ink is the addition or absence of drying agents in the mixture. Agents like cobalt drier cause ink to discolor or break down faster than it would without them and it should only be used in minute quantities if at all. Fine quality block prints should be printed without drier added to the ink and should dry by absobtion into the paper. Some blockprint artists specify that they use lithographic inks because they are generally made without drying agents.
— Neil