Hand-printed books of poetry,
Plus tips and supplies for fellow letterpress printers.

Transparent Medium

And Mixing White

You'll need a base to make paler colours. Mixing white is the traditional choice, and is a good place to start because it's easy to predict the end results when you mix colours into it. Although pure white is notoriously difficult to work with, pale colours made with white have a chalky, pastel quality to them which work quite well on darker papers.

Transparent medium (also known as tinting or reducing medium) is ink with all the colour taken out. It allows you to create layered effects a bit like using watercolour washes, or reducing the opacity in Photoshop etc. Pale colours usually seem more pigmented and lively when they're made with transparent medium but they can look grubby on cream papers and disappear altogether on dark papers.

Letterpress printing leaves a very thick layer of ink on the paper compared to litho and digital printing. Transparent medium refracts light and shows up this subtle three dimensional effect.

Transparent medium isn't see-through in the tin, it's a pale amber or greenish-white colour. This makes mixing colours tricky as you'll have to mentally subtract the brownish or greenish cast to get an idea of what it will look like when it's dry. Secondly, it dries very shiny and glaze-like. You can use a beeswax matting paste to give it a satin finish, but it'll never be truly matte.

We recommend experimenting with both white and transparent, and even combinations of the two. You can even use transparent medium as a spot varnish (to add shiny areas to matte papers) although it can come out a bit blobby so avoid finer type-faces.

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