Ink A Rainbow

I was truly excited to receive a sample set of Nick Stewart’s CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK) inks, thanks to the United Inkdom group. The idea behind them is that you can create the entire colour palette from these primaries in the same way as inkjet printers. Thus, if you only have room for 4 inks, these will enable you to create any other colour you need.

That’s the theory, at least. In practice, my talents at mixing colours beyond the basics, ie., red+yellow=orange, blue+yellow=green, etc,  have previously largely run as far as creating a less than fetching shade of mud brown. Thus, after my initial excitement, a massive feeling of trepidation, and a certain amount of foot dragging, set in.

Now, I like to do things properly if I’m going to do them at all and I really had no idea where to begin, so my first stop was to track down a CMYK colour chart (well, several charts actually), to assist with the getting the mix of colours right. The charts provided me with the percentage colour mixes used by printers to create a very wide range of shades. The next problem was that you can’t just dip in multiple inks without cross-contaminating them, therefore you need a clean palette/bottle and a controlled means of mixing the inks. As I discovered, just pouring them out isn’t the best way to achieve precise results, though I did end up with some quite vibrant greens and some… er…muddy browns ! Clearly, this needed planning and more eyedroppers than I possessed, but Ebay is my friend and once that was rectified, the experimentation could finally begin.

I started with the base colours and a bit of swabbing with a watercolour brush to get an idea of the range of tones available without any mixing.

Yes, I know, I always want to write Twiglet! The colours are a lot more vibrant in reality.

Next, on to the serious stuff! I picked a nice teal colour from my chart and tried to reproduce it.  The colour in the top left corner was the one I was after, the others being the same colour with the addition of increasing amounts of black.

Excuse the text above – not enough ink on the dip pen so I had to go-over. (Please also bear in mind that the colour balance in the pictures isn’t quite the same as in reality.)

In fact, I liked it so much (huge fan of teal, HUGE!) I loaded it up into a converter* and tried it out. This is the ink in a pen

The colour in the pen was an even better match than I had expected from my daubs with a glass dip pen, which tends to be more intense. I thought it actually worked quite well with the final colour being quite a reasonable match for the chart colour. I’ll count that a success then!

* and got it all over my fingers. Inky fingers again!
Top tip: a pipette isn’t really narrow enough to load a standard converter. You really need one of those syringes with the fat metal needles. 

Next up was a purple (another favourite). This time the results were less impressive, being quite dark and lacking vibrance, so I made a second attempt. Again, it was the top left boxes I was aiming for in both cases:

With the following results:

The colours are actually a bit more purple in reality than the picture suggests, but still quite dark.

I admit to being a little disappointed with these and how dark they came out, particularly given that I didn’t use any “K” at all.

My final colour experiment was to have a stab at something resembling flesh tones. Yes, I know this isn’t likely to be a colour you’d use for writing, but… art, yanno! Once again, the target was the top left.

Now we were in familiar territory with the creation of a shade I like to think of as “Mudflesh” 😀

Apologies again for the poor colour reproduction – they really do look better in the (mud)flesh!

Actually, to be fair, the result wasn’t all that bad and quite consistent with the others, insofar as rather than the top left colour, they were mostly falling in the middle row, which the CMYK chart would suggest as containing 3-5 parts black. None of the colours were too far off the target, just a bit darker than anticipated and perhaps lacking in a bit of zing. Here’s the full page pictured under a light (in an attempt to render the colours with a greater degree of accuracy.

I have admitted that I have no idea what I am doing here and I did find all my mixtures quite muted compared to the original colours. Perhaps I just chose the wrong ones to try to reproduce, or am insufficiently experienced in the mixology of ink, so I think I will stick with ready made ink colours, of which I have an abundance, for the time being. That said, I have enjoyed the learning experience of attempting to mix my own colours and do intend to continue to play with that. They are also a really useful set of colours in themselves and used them in some of my Inktober drawings, so I will be investing in the full set.

I should also add at this point, that some research, in the form of a conversation with a nice man in a printer ink shop, revealed that “cyan” covers quite a wide range of blues, which differ between manufacturers and even specific models of printer from the same manufacturer.  I imagine that the same is true of magenta, although I was specifically asking about cyan, so it is not the necessarily the colours but how they interact that would seem to be the key.

If you fancy having a go at mixing your own inks, Nick’s CMYK base colour set, which at £20 for a set of four 30ml bottles, is fair value for a set of colours specifically intended to be mixed together, can be purchased from his site here.

Happy mixing!



2 Replies to “Ink A Rainbow”

  1. I must emphasise that these are NOT pure cyan, magenta, yellow and black printer dyes! These are custom made high quality fountain pen inks which can be used to create for colour mixing and intended for journal illustration and painting. Each ink has its own character and chromatography as this gives the inks tonal shading qualities. If you wish to match colours to an inkjet printout, you want be able to achieve it. The inks were never intended to do this. Nick.

    1. As I said, my experience of mixing ink colours is very limited…well, non-existent really…and my experience of paints is not much greater. The CMYK charts were initially intended as a starting point and then I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see if these inks would function in the same way. My results show that by and large they do! The colours I obtained were very close, just tonally a little darker, which means that it is possible to use such a chart as a shortcut to the obtaining specific colours, rather than just using trial and error and potentially wasting a lot of ink. This is a huge bonus for me, as without this guidance I am liable to end up with mud brown more often than not.

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