February 21, 2024

The Wonders of White Ink

Our production floor features four large-format printers with an array of different capabilities and specialties. These top-of-the-line machines excel at printing interior and exterior graphics on a wide variety of substrates up to two inches in thickness, including paper products, acrylic, glass, vinyl, metal, fabric, and wood.
White ink, however, is a forgotten hero in the large-format printing world. While its use is not new, clients might not understand the vital role it can play in achieving a variety of desired graphic presentations. From enhancing print on dark materials to facilitating double-sided graphics on transparent ones, white ink grants us the ability to achieve advanced printed effects that full-color CMYK ink alone could not normally do.


Our printers can lay down colors in any order that we choose; we call this ability the layering of colors. The layering of white ink and CMYK colors is required when printing vibrant colors on dark or transparent substrates, which we’ll dive into below.
There are three white ink layering processes:
  1. White ink only
  2. White ink, color ink
  3. Color ink, white ink, color ink

White Ink

White ink by itself is just that – printing exclusively white ink on a substrate. When printed on darker materials like black Sintra, metal, or brown cardboard, white ink provides an effective contrast to the darker background. In the case of a double-sided graphic on a clear substrate (e.g., a window), you would see a white graphic from both sides – on top of one side and through the window to the other.

White Ink, Color Ink

White ink, color ink is primarily used for printing vibrant, full-color graphics on dark, non-white materials like wood, metal, or brown cardboard. In this layering method, a base white ink layer is printed underneath a full-color image layer to make that image visible on a dark background. Because inks are semi-transparent, white ink provides a base for the colors to be seen and reflect light, as if they were printed on a white substrate.
Sometimes, we’ll use this method for printing on clear materials like vinyl or colored plexiglass. In the case of a double-sided graphic printed on a transparent substrate, from the front, you will see the full-color image, but from the backside, you see a reversed solid white shape of that image. In the case of text or a company logo, it will read backward. 

Color Ink, White Ink, Color Ink

The last option, frequently referred to as Color/White/Color, is used for graphics intended to be viewed from both sides of a transparent material, showing a full-color image from each perspective. On the press, a color ink layer is printed first, followed by white ink positioned exactly on top, and then another color ink layer on top of that. This allows viewing from both sides of a transparent material. Again, any text or logos would be reversed from the backside unless they were digitally flipped in Photoshop, which is a common request.



Dark Materials

As mentioned above, directly printed full-color ink will not naturally show up vibrantly on darker, non-white materials like corrugated cardboard, wood, or metal. Sometimes, a non-vibrant color on these surfaces is the desired effect. If, however, you need vibrant color, you must print white ink, applied to the substrate as a first layer, then CMYK ink on top. This reproduces the colors without being influenced by the color of the substrate underneath.

Transparent Materials

Printed graphics on transparent materials like glass, acrylic, or clear vinyl – often for storefront windows, display cases, and display toppers (pictured above) – will be viewable from both sides. This requires consideration of your presentation from each viewing perspective and the use of white ink to achieve your desired effect.

Privacy Film

Frequently utilized in office building, medical facility, car showroom, and athletic facility meeting rooms that feature glass walls and dividers, privacy film offers just that – privacy in spaces that would otherwise be highly visible. To achieve this visual barrier, we print a graphic, usually a pattern, color blocking, and/or gradients with a tint of white ink. This allows light to passthrough the barrier but obscures the view when looking through it into an area that requires privacy. This vinyl is then applied directly to the glass, creating an obscured, frosted effect. There are films specifically designed to provide this frosted effect, but when using white ink, you can design custom patterns and graphics that will achieve the same goal and give your space a unique look.



By far, the biggest benefit of white ink is its use as a base print layer on dark substrates. It is also a helpful barrier between your full-color graphic and any absorbent materials like cork or corrugated cardboard. Additionally, our specialty printers can print smaller text and finer details directly on a clear substrate than they can on vinyl. This is perfect for museum-style display cases with written descriptions like the ones we created for Adidas’s Messi Pop-Up Store.
The cons are few but, of course, factors to keep in mind. The addition of white ink when printing CMYK layers means that your graphic will be more expensive and take two to three times longer to print. This extra ink and time may affect your budget and schedule. Your Infinity Images account representative will be happy to discuss any issues or concerns.


Now, it’s time to set up your file. If your internal creative team is handling the design process, they’ll need to create a separate layer for the white ink. In most situations, the white layer is either a specific shape where you want white ink or a flood layer that covers the entire background. Please plan to send a layered file (Adobe Illustrator or InDesign) with each layer – white, full color, etc. – separated. (See our How to Successfully Submit Art Files blog for more details about file submission.) You can also indicate where you’d like the white ink to go, and our prepress department can manage its setup. Alternatively, our prepress department can recommend where they think the white layer should go if you’d like to lean on their expertise. If we are the ones managing the design of your graphics, our team will handle all facets of the process.
The final task for you will be to review the art proofs. In our digital proofing system, Lift, white ink layers show up as a light blue layer on top of the full-color layer. To reiterate: the white layer will ultimately be printed as the base layer under the color layer but is shown on top in our proofing system. Simply review that the white ink is where you are expecting it to be, and we will make sure it is printed in the correct order.
If you have any additional questions or needs, please contact your Infinity Images account representative directly. If you haven’t been assigned a representative yet, reach out! We’d love to help you bring your specialty printing needs to life.

What Does Large-Format Printing Mean?

arrow icon