What is a Tint Book?

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A big part of creating high-quality print projects on digital inkjet is understanding the variable workflows, papers, ink, and print technology that play a part in transferring your design from the screen to the sheet. This means there are a wide range of components graphic designers must account for when communicating with printers about the steps and tasks necessary to ensure a design is printed at the highest possible level. 

“There’s no better way to learn why various process components are important and how they influence each other than to see the process in action,” write Elizabeth Gooding and Mary Schilling, authors of The Designer’s Guide to Inkjet, 3rd Edition. “The most successful designers understand printing processes and have open communication with the people who will ultimately make their designs a reality.” 

A tint book is one such tool to help designers establish a productive line of communication with a printer, and it can also help designers troubleshoot potential color matching problems before they arise. Here, we’ll look at the importance of a tint book in helping designers get the most out of digital inkjet print. 

What is a tint book and how does it work?

One of the challenges with printing on any kind of press — offset or digital inkjet — is accounting for how different paper types, paper weights, and ink formulations will combine to impact how colors appear on a printed sheet. 

For example, uncoated paper is more porous because it lacks any kind of coating on fibers of the sheet — this high level of ink absorption leads to less sharp, vibrant images and colors. On the flip side, coated paper prevents high degrees of ink absorption, thus creating sharper, more vivid colors. 

This same principle holds true for other aspects of paper, like thickness and basis weight, and the kind of ink formulation a printer uses can also impact the color and image quality. 

A tint book is essentially a swatchbook demonstrating how solid blocks of color will appear once printed on a variety of different paper and ink combinations. These print samples will help simplify and streamline the color matching process by showcasing the degree of color tint when making the move to CMYK process colors. 

“If your designs require any type of Pantone® or other spot-color matching system, it is wise to ask your print provider to provide a tint book,” write Gooding and Schilling. “ If you are using a post-coating, make sure to have the tint book coated as well, since coatings can affect the colors in the finished product.” 

Good and Schilling also recommend requesting a tint book for each kind of press used in a project. 

“If you’re working on a project that will use multiple technologies, request a tint book on all the presses that will be part of the finished piece to support color matching.” 

What to do if your printer doesn’t provide a tint book?

In the event that your printer provider doesn’t have a tint book to help guide your color matching process, you may still be able to work through the color matching process. Of course, you want to make sure that you account for coated and uncoated sheets in order to ensure the most accurate and versatile color matching. 

The ability to work through the color matching process without a tint book does depend on whether your print provider has a large Pantone color database. 

“For instance, if your print provider’s workflow includes a large Pantone color database or lookup table library, it can convert the assigned Pantone Spot Color to CMYK color values to estimate the match for a particular ink and paper combination,” explain Gooding and Schilling. “If a particular inkjet device uses a lookup table, a lot of color matching guesswork can be eliminated.”

While this can be an effective substitute for a tint book, Gooding and Schilling stress that a printer should be able to provide you with a tint book that includes a variety of media if they require swatch colors to be assigned as processed CMYK. 

“If your print provider requires your swatch colors to be assigned as process CMYK, they should have a media-specific tint book or at least be willing to provide you one.” 

Understanding what a tint book is and why it’s important is the first step toward ensuring a smooth, error-free color matching process. But this is just the beginning of what designers need to know about how to facilitate color matching workflows. 


Download The Designer’s Guide to Inkjet, 3rd Edition to learn everything you need to know about creating the highest caliber inkjet print.