How good are you at creating screen prints with the exact colors you’re aiming for? Are you pretty confident in your ability to reproduce the colors that you want, time and time again? If a customer came in and asked you to match a color exactly, how confident are you that you could meet the request?

Color matching in screen printing is a tricky concept. Many screen printers rely on the Pantone Matching System (PMS) to match colors for a customer or to choose the exact colors they want for a print. While PMS can give you a good reference to work from, it has its limitations. There are many factors that influence the final color of your screen prints and you have to understand those factors to be able to work around them to increase your ability to create and match you and your customers’ desired print colors.

Substrate color

One of the most obvious factors that can affect the printed appearance of your inks is the color of your substrate. All screen printing inks have some level of transparency, so the color of your substrate will affect your final print color. This can be a hurdle even when using the PMS, as Pantone matches are typically based on a white substrate.

Substrate finish

The finish or texture of a substrate also can have significant impact on the final color of your ink. If the substrate is matte or glossy, or if the substrate absorbs ink or allows ink to sit on top all will affect how concentrated the color of your cured ink is.

Ink thickness

When the garment in on your screen printing press, there are a lot of factors play into how thick of a deposit of ink you lay down on your substrate. Generally speaking, the more ink you put down, the more vibrant it will appear and the more closely it will match your true ink color. A thinner layer of ink will be less opaque and lighter in color. That means factors like your mesh count, squeegee hardness, screen tension, printing pressure and underbase all will have an impact on the final look of your print.

The printing process

As you print, your ink can change in color. The pigment gets mixed around and liquids can evaporate out of your ink, especially during long press runs. During printing, your ink might change color as liquid evaporates out and color becomes more concentrated, or it may become mottled in appearance due to the constant working of the ink across the screen.

Ink temperature

When it comes to color, ink temperature doesn’t have to do with how hot or cold you keep your shop; it has to do with whether your ink is a “warm” or a “cold” color. Warm colors include reds, yellows and oranges, while cool colors include blues and purples. Even seemingly neutral colors can have a temperature to them, and you might find different temperatures even within the same color; for example, there are both blue reds and yellow reds. Ink temperature can play a big factor in the final look of the ink, which might not be evident when the ink is in the container. Your white and black ink will inevitably cool or warm, and that can affect how they mix with other colors. The cool or warm tones also can become more evident after the curing process, or the temperature of a particular color may have an impact on how it looks against the color of your substrate or against other colors of ink.

Your computer

If you’re basing your ink color on the color on your computer screen, you could end up with a serious problem. Not all computer monitors register colors accurately, so the color on your screen could be vastly different than the color that appears on your customer’s screen when he or she OKs the image, and it can be dramatically different than the color of the ink you pull to match your digital image. This is where using a color matching system like PMS can be helpful. You also might want to invest in color calibration of the computer monitors in your art department, which is a relatively cheap process that can help your art department work with color more accurately.


Nearly every screen printer has had the experience of laying down a print that looks perfect in the shop, then suddenly looks off in sunlight. Lighting can greatly affect how we see color, and you want to be sure that your ink colors look great are an accurate match in all lights, if that’s what been promised to the client. A simple light box can be a valuable tool in a screen printing shop; it allows you to check the colors of your ink under different types of lighting so you won’t be shocked when you see your print outside your shop.

There are a lot of factors that affect how we see color and how the final color of the ink will look to you and your customers. While using PMS can help; it’s best to be aware of the different factors that affect the appearance of ink colors and do your best to control or address those factors. As always, the best way to get good at matching colors or predicting what different colors will look like in a process job or on different color substrates is with practice and testing. It can be helpful to keep swatches of the inks you use most often on the substrates you use most often so you can refer to those swatches before you print. As with all aspects of the screen printing process, the best way to keep your customers happy is by clearly communicating your capabilities and making sure they understand what to expect.

For more information on matching the colors in your screen prints to your customers’ demands, check out this blog:

Color Matching Ink for Screen Printing: Get the Best Results!