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Printing with Fluorescent Inks

Printing on uncoated stock can be a welcome alternative to printing on a gloss, dull, or matte stock. The printed product will have a thickness and pleasantly rough texture unavailable on a coated sheet.

Nevertheless, there are challenges with uncoated paper. One of these is the tendency of an uncoated stock to soak up the ink, lessening the brightness of the printed images. One way around this problem is to substitute fluorescent process inks for traditional process inks (either one ink at a time or multiple inks). The printed effect is to add a luminescence to the image. The less fluorescent ink you use, though, the more subtle the radiance is.

The best way to see what your final product will look like printed with fluorescent inks is to request a sample promotional booklet from a paper or ink manufacturer. These promotional books will show images printed with traditional process inks side by side with the same images printed with fluorescent process inks (or with a combination of traditional and fluorescent process inks).

You will see right away that the fluorescent colors will significantly brighten an image, making it seem to jump off the page. You will also see that certain fluorescent colors will jump out more than others. For instance, replacing only process yellow with fluorescent yellow in a photo of a metallic surface like a trumpet will make the trumpet seem crystal clear and brilliant. So being selective in choosing which colors to replace with fluorescent inks can have dramatic effect on the final printed product, especially when you use fluorescents that are warm colors (reds and yellows) rather than cool colors (blues and greens).

If you try to brighten blue or green images with fluorescent inks, you will see that these do not produce as dramatic a shift. And when you are using the four process colors in a press run, adding two traditional process colors (such as cyan and black) to fluorescent magenta and yellow, for example, you will tone down the image, and you may kill the radiance that fluorescents provide. You can observe this on a progressive proof (a proof of the first color printed on press, then the first and second, then the first, second, and third, and so forth).

As mentioned before, on an uncoated sheet fluorescent inks will make images of reflective metal “pop.” They will also make a festive image (like a carnival) more festive, and they will make a photo that includes a blur to denote movement seem even more active and vibrant. Think of it as “turning up the volume.” But do request printed samples first so you can show your printer the effect you want to achieve.

In addition, keep in mind the limitations of fluorescent inks; that is, they fade quickly and need to be kept out of direct sunlight. In addition, they are very transparent and may require a double pass on press.

Ouch: Don't Be Surprised by Your Printing Bill

One item the estimate for your printed product will not address is the charge for AA’s. AA’s are Author’s Alterations, changes you make due to your errors or omissions. If, for instance, you are on a press check and you see a typo on the cover of your book while it is being printed, this change may require making four new plates. If this is the case, you will be charged (this could cost up to $2,000.00). If you catch the same error on the digital proof prior to printing, it will cost significantly less (maybe $100.00). If your printer makes a mistake, though, (like creating a poor color separation) this is called a “PE,” or Printer Error, and your printer will absorb the charge. The best way to avoid surprises is to discuss each problem situation with your printer as it arises (in the proofs and on press, if you attend a press check) and determine who is responsible for the error. Then you can consider the cost and make an informed decision as to whether to make the correction or leave the error as it is.

Check the Color Across the Entire Press Sheet

When you’re on a press check, it is easy to forget that the printed sheet in your hand will be folded and trimmed into a booklet (or brochure). Two or more panels of this brochure, or two or more pages of this booklet, may appear on opposite sides of a press sheet (or, at the very least, not in adjacent positions on the same side of the press sheet). If color accuracy is important to you for facing pages (for example, if the two pages will have identical screened backgrounds), you need to hold the two printed pages that will end up next to one another side by side to make sure the color will match on both pages when the sheet has been folded, cut, and bound. This is crucial because color can often vary from one side to the other across a press sheet. Making sure color on facing pages of your printed product will match at this stage can help you avoid a poor result when you see the actual printed piece.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]

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