16 ink set: 1lb cans or 1/3 lb tubes?

Hi, everyone! Hoping to hear from those with lots of printing experience on this one…

I inherited a bunch of random ink to start my letterpress journey. However, I’m finding myself wanting to go beyond black and red!

I’m interested in purchasing the full 16-color set from letterpressink.com in order to mix Pantone colors. I know many may recommend ordering custom colors, but I’m interested in experimenting, and a custom lb is more money than I would like to spend on my little experiments.

However, I’m debating between paying $200 for 1/3 pound tubes or $367 for 1 pound cans.

I, of course, know that it is a better value, per se, to get the 1lb cans. Right now, I would like to save as much money as possible. I also tend to over-buy supplies that I never use.

I am thinking if I go with the tubes, I can just re-order the colors used more often, thinking that there are probably many colors that will not be used much or if ever. (Read another forum thread that seemed to indicate this, as well.)

Those who have been printing a while: do you think I might as well go for the 1 lb because all 16 are used frequently?

Thanks a ton!

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16 colors, really. You said you want to experiment, why not start with CMYK plus the 2 whites. Cheaper, less inventory, and if you can’t get the color you want from that, try a different color.

Hi jsml,

I have owned a letterpress since 1963, have been in printing pretty much all my life, and was a color matcher in industry among other things. I agree with clpx2, you really don’t need the entire Pantone set of bases.

Are you going to get a Pantone Formula Guide (commonly known as a PMS book), and mix using the formulas in the guide? If you are going to get one of these, that would be the first step you should take. Look at the formulas for the colors in the guide and you will see that some of the bases are used a lot and some are used much less. You could skip the bases that are used less, and only get them if you need them at some point in the future (which will probably be never).

If you are not planning to mix colors from the Pantone Guide, then you can do what clipx2 says above and just get cyan, magenta, yellow and black (black you already have), plus transparent white and opaque white. This way you are on your own as far as developing formulas for your colors, but you will probably be able to make all the colors you need. If you go this route, there are some guidelines you should follow. Try to mix colors using as few base colors as possible, 2 or 3 is optimum. Start with the lightest color in the mix and SLOWLY add the darker color because if you add too much you will need to use a lot of the lighter color to make the mix light again and you will end up with too much ink. If you need to use black to make a color darker or less pure and brilliant, use less than you think you will need, as it is very easy to add too much black. One other thing, draw a circle on a piece of paper and in the 12 o’clock, 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 o’clock positions put the following abbreviations in the same order: R for red, O for orange, Y for yellow, G for green, B for blue, and V for violet. If you drew it right, R should be opposite G, O opposite B, and Y opposite V. This is the color wheel. It is important because when you mix using colors close to each other on the color wheel, the resultant color will be the most pure and brilliant (highest in chroma). The farther the colors that you use, are from each other on the color wheel, the duller and closer to grayish (lower in chroma) the colors will be.

By the way, if you decide to get cyan and magenta and want to put them on the color wheel, cyan is a greenish blue (the ink makers say green shade blue), so it should go at about the 7:30 position next to blue which is at the 8:00 position, and magenta is a blue shade red, so it should go at about the 11:30 position next to red which is at the 12:00 position.

Finally, to provide an opinion about whether to get tubes or cans, it depends on how much printing you think you will be doing. If you are just printing for a hobby, and don’t plan to do a lot of big things like posters, you could probably get by with tubes. Otherwise, get cans. A “pro” with tubes is that the ink won’t form a skin on top, if you are getting oil base ink. A “con” is that it is hard to put extra ink back in a tube. I like cans personally, and the skin which forms on top of oil base ink is manageable, but that is a topic for another post.

@Geoffrey -
Thanks so much for the tips on the CMYK mixing, etc.!

I was planning on using PMS and getting the guide, but the CMYK experiments sound like a possibility, as well.

Cans vs. tubes was my main question, and I think that I do plan on doing this professionally, but am always doubtful of the future and whether I can make a living out of this…

I have this 1lb cans that I inherited, and it seems like even with the projects I have already done, that I have hardly put a dent in them!

Thanks a ton - I will keep thinking about cans vs. tubes or 16 vs. CMYK

Thank you for your reply. If you have any other questions, I’m sure I (or others) will be glad to help you.