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Revolutionizing Color Matching in the Printing Ink Industry

In the fast-paced world of printing inks, achieving precise color matching has always been a challenging and costly endeavor.

However, recent advancements in computer-assisted color matching techniques have emerged as a game-changer, offering efficiency and accuracy that were once unimaginable.

In this article, we delve into the world of instrumental color match prediction and explore how it's transforming the printing ink industry.

color matching

Understanding the Basics

Light Absorption and Scattering: When light falls on a printed surface, it's absorbed and scattered, with scattered light measured as diffuse reflectance.

Kubelka and Munk Equation: The foundation of color match prediction lies in the relationship between absorption, scattering, and reflectance established by Kubelka and Munk.
However, it's essential to note that their original equation was designed for an ideal surface coating, which may differ from the characteristics of printing inks.

What is the Kubelka and Munk Equation?

The Kubelka-Munk equation, named after its developers, Egon Kubelka and Franz Munk, is a fundamental mathematical model used in color science and spectroscopy.

This equation describes the interaction of light with a medium that contains absorbing and scattering substances, such as pigments in printing inks, paints, or coatings.

It helps in understanding and quantifying the optical properties of such materials, particularly with respect to color.

The Kubelka-Munk equation is as follows:

R/S = (1 - R)^2 / (2 * R)


  • R represents the reflectance of the medium or surface (the fraction of incident light that is reflected).
  • S represents the sum of the scattering and absorption coefficients of the medium.
  • The equation describes the relationship between reflectance (R) and the absorption and scattering properties of the medium (S).

The Kubelka-Munk equation is particularly useful in the context of color matching and predicting how different pigments or dyes will behave when mixed together.

By knowing the absorption and scattering properties of individual pigments, one can use the equation to calculate how the resulting mixture will appear in terms of color and intensity.

This is essential in fields like printing, where precise color reproduction is crucial.

It's important to note that while the Kubelka-Munk equation is a valuable tool, it makes certain assumptions about the medium, such as uniformity and homogeneity, and may not always perfectly predict the behavior of complex materials in real-world scenarios.

However, it provides a foundational framework for understanding color interactions and remains a valuable tool in color science and technology.

Additive Magic of K/S Function

Additivity and Linearity: Building on Kubelka and Munk's work, Duncan's research in the 1940s uncovered that the Kubelka-Munk K/S function is both additive and linear.

This discovery allows for precise calculation of pigment contributions.

Reflectance vs. K/S Curves: While the reflectance curves of primary inks might not immediately represent the resulting mixture color, the K/S curve accurately reflects the sum of individual K/S curves.

What is Duncan's research?

Duncan's research refers to the work of Robert S. Duncan, an American scientist known for his contributions to the field of color science, particularly in the context of colorimetry and color matching.

His research played a significant role in advancing our understanding of color reproduction and prediction in various industries, including printing, paints, and coatings.

One of Duncan's notable contributions was building upon the work of Kubelka and Munk, who developed the Kubelka-Munk equation to describe the interaction of light with absorbing and scattering materials.

Duncan extended their findings in the 1940s by demonstrating that the Kubelka-Munk K/S function (where K represents absorption and S represents scattering) is both additive and linear.

This discovery was crucial because it allowed for more precise calculations of how different pigments or colorants would behave when mixed together.

Duncan's research essentially provided a mathematical foundation for predicting color outcomes when different colorants are combined.

This work has been particularly valuable in industries where color matching and color reproduction are essential, such as printing, where precise control over color is crucial for producing high-quality printed materials.

Equations for Precision

Relating Reflectance to Pigment Concentrations: Ingenious equations can be derived to determine the concentrations of constituent colored pigments based on reflectance measurements.

Consideration of Substrate: It's crucial to factor in the K/S values of the substrate. However, simply deducting them may not yield accurate results due to complex interactions.

Mastering Color Matching

Match-Prediction Procedures: The key lies in preparing K/S values for pigments at various concentrations and storing them in a database.

Modern systems, like the ICS system, integrate spectrophotometry with computer software for efficient data storage and calculations.

Training and Technical Support: Equipment suppliers offer training and advisory services to ensure the correct utilization of match-prediction systems.

Pressing Matters

Calibration Samples: To achieve precise color characteristics on printing presses, calibration samples must be prepared for each pigment base.

Laboratory Proofing Presses: The criteria for selecting proofing presses include controlled film weight, uniformity, repeatability, ease of operation, and quick color change.
Controlling color variations and ensuring print repeatability are essential for quality control.

Building the Database

Forms of Colorant: Colorants can take various forms, such as dry pigments, dispersed pigment concentrates, unreduced inks, or inks reduced to meet press requirements.

Grouping of Substrates: Separate databases are essential for different ink systems, considering factors like pigment type, concentration, flow, viscosity, and substrate variations.
Careful database construction is vital for accurate color matching.

Spectrophotometry: A Game-Changer in Offset Printing

Understanding Spectrophotometry: Spectrophotometry is a non-destructive analytical method that measures the absorption or transmission of light by a substance across a range of wavelengths.

Color Matching in Offset Printing: In the offset printing industry, clients demand consistency in color across various print materials.
Spectrophotometry quantifies color differences, ensuring printed colors align with intended specifications.

Benefits of Spectrophotometry

Improved Color Consistency: Spectrophotometers standardize color measurements, maintaining consistent colors throughout production runs.
Reduced Waste: Accurate color measurement minimizes errors, reducing the need for reprints and waste, ultimately saving resources and costs.
Color Quality Control: Spectrophotometry enables comprehensive color analysis, aiding in detecting deviations and making necessary adjustments.
Enhanced Color Accuracy: Printers achieve a higher level of color accuracy, meeting precise client requirements and enhancing overall print quality.

A Seamless Workflow

Color Sampling: Printers take color samples and measure them with a spectrophotometer.

Data Analysis: Spectrophotometers provide detailed color data, enabling color comparison with reference standards.

Color Adjustment: Any color deviations prompt adjustments in the printing process, ensuring consistent color standards.

Conclusion Instrumental color match prediction techniques are revolutionizing the printing ink industry by saving time, reducing costs, and ensuring accurate color matching.

With advanced systems and meticulous database preparation, ink manufacturers can enhance production processes and meet specific color requirements, satisfying the demands of an ever-evolving market.