All About Inks

Let's have a think about ink for custom label printing!

custom printing cmyk ink

Nowadays stickers can be printed in almost any color you can think of! Printers utilize resins, foils and various types of ink combined with different processes and technologies to create an expansive rainbow of color options for your custom printed label.

Spot colors inks

Spot color in the broadest sense means a solid unit of definable color. In flexographic printing, spot colors are often water-based inks that are mixed from a powder and require a plate to transfer onto the substrate. Most printers will offer a selection of standard spot colors, which are commonly used inks like black or 185 red, but they can also create a custom match for a special Pantone color.


“PMS” stands for Pantone Match System, which is the standardized system of color identification for printers in North America and around the globe. An immense spectrum of printed colors is compiled into a Pantone swatch book, which is like a dictionary that defines color with a code. There are so many subtle variations of color and variables in printing that can impact ink output, which means if color is important to you, know your PMS value!


CMYK, or four-color process, is a method of combining cyan, magenta, yellow and black to print full color images and graphics. CMYK is commonly used in digital printing, which means that computers are interpreting, diagnosing and determining the percentages of these colors to create many different colors. This is important because all computers and printers will evaluate the same graphic slightly differently, in the same manner different screens will display color differently due to different settings, preferences, monitor calibrations or profiles. CMYK output can vary from slight to extreme, so if color concerns you, be sure to discuss it with your printer.

Thermal Resins

Resins resemble colored ribbon that are applied to the substrate through a process called thermal transfer. Resins are thicker than ink and therefore have greater opacity making them a good option to print a solid color on a clear or metallic substrate. The color options are more limited with resins, but they can produce colors like fluorescents, metallics and white, which cannot be achieved with standard inks or CMYK.


Foils are like thermal resins in that both require heat to transfer and the printed result is quite opaque, but the process is different. Sometimes referred to as “hot stamped foils” or “leaf”, foils are heated and then pressed with a plate onto the substrate. We use foils instead of powder ink on our embossing press to achieve consistent, solid ink coverage. Foils come in a wide selection of colors and finishes from matte to glossy to metallic or even holographic!

UV Inks

UV ink starts as a powder that is mixed with resin and then cured onto the substrate with UV light. The result is a very durable ink that’s resistant to moisture, abrasion, UV exposure, grease and even mild chemicals. The powder base contains tiny grains that transfer while printing, leaving a slightly gritty texture you can feel when you rub your finger over the surface.

This is just a smattering of different inks used by printers to create the wide variety of custom printed labels out there, and it’s a constantly evolving with new technologies and techniques. Who knew there was so much to think about ink!

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