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Mind Your Ink–Use Drawdowns

Dean Petrulakis     LinkedIn     Twitter

Senior Vice President, Business Development

Rider Dickerson


Would you paint your house without seeing a sample of the paint on your wall?  If yes, you are taking a big risk that the color won’t look as nice on your wall as it does on the paint chip in the store.  When we built our house 5 years ago my wife and I went back and forth about paint colors.  The best thing we did was order small sample jars of the colors we were considering and then paint small swatches on the actual walls to see how they looked—especially once the paint dried.  We loved certain colors in the store, but not so much when we saw them on the walls.  Ultimately we were very happy with the final colors.

Why am I writing about my paint selection process you may be asking?  Simple, the same concept holds true when printing PMS (Pantone Matching System for our non print-junkie readers) colors.  Many designers I work with make the common mistake of trusting their PMS books to select their ink colors assuming that just because the color looks like it does in the book that it will look that way when it’s printed. Big mistake!

Just like paint looks different when it dries on your walls, so do inks when they interact with different papers.  The PMS book, like the paint chip books at your local Home Depot, should be used as a guide for choosing your spot colors.  However, if you really want to see what the ink will look like ask your printer for a drawdown.  A drawdown is a swatch of ink applied to the stock you will be printing on.  By taking this extra step you can confirm your choice of spot color was correct or you may not like what you see and choose a different color.   Either way, it’s an important step, and it’s a step I encourage all of my clients to take when working with spot colors.

In some cases you may end up choosing a different ink color.  In other cases you might like the ink but don’t like how it looks on the paper you chose.  In that case you might choose a different stock, pull another drawdown and then move ahead.  The key thing to note is that inks are not opaque.  They are transparent.  They take on the characteristics of the paper they are printed on.  For example, ink sits up nicely on top of a coated sheet of paper (this is called ink holdout).  The color will look more vibrant.  However, take that same ink and print it on a toothy uncoated sheet and the ink soaks into the sheet like a sponge—killing the vibrancy of the ink.  This is why the PMS books come in coated and uncoated.

We worked on a project recently for a new client where pulling drawdowns helped the designer make a really wise paper selection.  You can read the full story here.  Had we not taken the extra step to pull the drawdowns the project may not have had the same great result.  I work with many designers, both experienced and less experienced.  I have learned over the years that many designers just don’t know a drawdown is even a possibility.  This is why I make it my personal responsibility to make sure my clients are aware of their choices so that in the end we are all happy with the direction of the project and the final result.

Have you had any ink nightmares recently?  Let me know.  I’d love to discuss what happened, why it happened and how it could have been avoided.

In my next post I will discuss the importance of choosing brand papers to ensure consistent color across all of your company’s print materials.


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