Van Son Metallic ink

Hi guys,

I have been printing a few pieces in both the gold and silver metallic ink from Van Son. The ink looks great in the can, but when i print, the silver looks like a grey, and the gold looks like a brown, with very little metallic properties.

Are there any general guidelines to follow when using these inks? I notice that it looks very metallic when a blob of it dries on my palette knife. I’m getting nice crisp text, so i don’t really want to increase the density of the ink.


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What type of stock are you printing on? Metallics will tend to absorb into the cotton stock and not look metallic. I just printed silver on a coated chipboard and coaster stock, the silver is beautiful on the coated chipboard and dull on the coasters.

You may want to print a clear varnish down to seal the paper surface before printing with the metallic ink to give good gloss on porous paper stock.

Dennis- I am using a cotton stock, primarily Lettra.

jhenry- good suggestion. What do you suggest as a varnish? Not sure how practical this is with a hand cranked Vandercook.

I might just have to admit that its not very feasible or practical on cotton papers



A standard ink varnish or even transparent white would provide a good sealing base for the metallic image. If you find an overprint varnish, you would want to be certain it had no waxes or silicones in it as you are printing over it and you want the color to bond to it.

The varnish would simply be a clear ink with no pigment in it. You could use another ink with pigment for that base, but then you would have to have absolutely accurate register. You could try a yellow ink which may not show under the metallic or even would look OK if it peeked out around the edge a bit if mis-registered.

You cam do two passes with the same color as well. The first pass will look dull but once it dries the second will have that shine and a mis register won’t look so obvious.

Metallics really look best when printed on hard gloss coated stocks.

Here is a more theoretical explanation of what happens with metallic inks, for what its worth.

The majority of metallic inks these days are made using aluminum powder for the metallic portion of the pigment. Silver ink, basically, has just the aluminum powder for pigment. Gold and all the other metallic colors are made using aluminum powder with the addition of colored pigments to achieve whatever colors the inks are supposed to be.

The pigment particles in aluminum powder are in the form of tiny flat flakes. In order for metallic ink to look its shiniest, all the aluminum flakes need to be able to lay down flat on a very smooth surface after they are printed. Then the flakes will make a flat, shiny surface. This is what happens on very smooth, coated paper.

The rougher the paper , the more the flakes will come to rest on the sides of the tiny hills and valleys in the rough paper. Since the flakes will be at all different angles and not flat, they won’t look shiny.

If you put a layer of ink or varnish down first, this first layer will tend to flow into the tiny valleys in the paper and fill them up, making the paper smoother. Then when you put the metallic layer on, the aluminum flakes will tend to lay more flat, which will increase the shine.

In addition to the excellent comments posted above, one other thing to keep in mind is that all “silver” and “gold” inks aren’t necessarily created equal. If you’re not using Pantone 877 Silver or one of the Pantone golds (871-876), who knows what just what color you may be getting. Van Son, and presumably some other ink companies, make a less expensive metallic silver and metallic gold which aren’t nearly as impressive as the Pantone colors.

Best option to underpin with another colour yellow under gold ,opaque white or mixing white under the silver , unload in little piles and handle not til dry as underpinning reduces the colours ability to be absorbed by the stock and therefore drying takes much longer .

Dave Robison: Pantone is only a colour reference, every manufacturer of inks makes their inks using the ingredients as stipulated by Pantone. As far as I know, Pantone doesn’t manufacture inks themselves. So, in theory, a Pantone metallic ink from Van Son or from another manufacturer should give the same result.

Van Son has sold, at least in the past, “metallic” inks that are not Pantone, as have many other ink makers. for example VS Copper Gold.

I would agree with Dave and others that all metallic inks are not the same. One reason for this is that there are different types of metallic pigments. As far as the “shine” in metallic inks goes, what is relevant is that there are leafing and non-leafing grades of aluminum pigment. Leafing is defined as when the flakes of pigment all settle down and lie flat in the ink film, like leaves which have fallen to the ground in the fall. When the pigment flakes are all flat, they make more of a mirror like surface which has a better shine to it. Non-leafing grades don’t do this.

If you ever see metallic inks described as “leafing,” that is what you want, if you are looking for an ink which will be shiny (if you print it on a smooth surface).

Excellent post guys. Very educational.

Vanson also sells non metallic colors that are the same Pantone number as the metallic inks. I know at work we have a can of non metallic 877 and 871—- and every time we get a job with those colors they ask me if it’s metallic or not. I had never heard of that before I started working here.

That’s interesting Lammy. Before retiring, I worked in a plant that printed paper cups by flexo (flexo uses soft photopolymer relief plates and fluid inks). We never used metallic inks because, among other reasons, we knew that they wouldn’t look shiny on our uncoated (i.e. relatively rough) cup stock anyway. As in your shop, we used non-metallic inks which approximated the metallic colors. Doing this was always a bit of a challenge, because if customers came in for a color OK, it was hard to predict what they were going to approve. One reason for this is that when you look at a metallic gold color swatch, for instance, it looks different depending on the angle you view it at. So, which angle the customer viewed the metallic swatch at, could change the non-metallic color they liked. Luckily for us, in flexo it is relatively easy to make color adjustments on the press.