Print Hint: The Reflex Blues

At Mohawk, we love blue. Our corporate color is blue {PMS 661}, and Strathmore has long been synonymous with blue. The new Strathmore ream wrap is very blue {PMS 662 & PMS 279}. This means that I often find myself needing to print lots and lots of full-coverage blues. The problem is that most blues rub like it’s their job.

There’s a pigment in most blue inks called Reflex Blue. Due to its chemical makeup, Reflex Blue is known for excessive rub characteristics. So, when you have some Reflex Blue on an inside front cover and a mostly-white first page, you’re going to end up with a whole lot of ugly rub on all that pristine white paper.

Take, for instance, the blue originally chosen as our corporate color: PMS 286, which is made from 25% Process Blue and 75% Reflex Blue. One of our first projects with PMS 286 ended up in the recycling bin after many attempts to combat some serious rubbing. For the record, our new corporate blue  {PMS 661} is made from 47% Blue 072, 3% Black and 50% Transparent White.  Blue 072 contains only a small amount of Reflex Blue.

I was recently on press for the Strathmore Letterhead Kit {left} where we, once again, decided to print full coverage blues. Here’s what we did to combat the rub:

First: We encourage our designers to use colors that contain very little Reflex Blue. The Pantone Formula Guide makes it easy to find out the makeup of your inks. You can find blue shades containing lower amounts of Reflex Blue in the back of the Guide {starting around PMS 628}.

Second: If we can’t get around using a PMS color with a lot of Reflex Blue, we ask the printer to have the ink supplier use Imitation Reflex Blue when mixing the inks. Imitation Reflex Blue pigment shows less rub than the “true Blue.”

Third: We always use a dull varnish or dull aqueous coating for rub protection, no matter what color we print.

Want to hold the new Strathmore Letterhead Kit in your own two hands?  Be one of the first ten to comment on this post for your very own copy. Reflex Blue melodramas or dramatic saves are especially welcome.

Pantone®-identified color reproduction information has been provided for the guidance of the reader. Refer to current Pantone Color Publications for color standards. Pantone® is a registered trademark of Pantone, Inc.

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Comments (14)

  1. Posted by Patricia on 04.24.09 at 11:16 am

    This was really informative. I didn’t know anything about the rub problem of Reflex Blue. And I loved hearing about the workarounds for it.

  2. Posted by difaye on 04.24.09 at 11:48 am

    I have not run into this problem yet, but it’s definitely good to know! I love this site and have been recommending it to others, keep up the great content!

  3. Posted by stacyanguyen on 04.24.09 at 1:57 pm

    What a great post. It is interesting to learn the “why” behind problems and the answer to fix it. Blue is one of my favorite colors to use in design, and now I know to choose my colors more wisely when it comes to print. Thanks.

  4. Posted by elisabeth on 04.24.09 at 2:30 pm

    Reflex blue has been a color beloved by clients for as long as I can remember. When given a choice of blues people always seem to go for Reflex. There is something to be said for that “true blue”. To make life a bit easier I try to design around the rub issues as well as the extended dry time. This is the first I’ve heard of Imitation Reflex Blue. Is this for mixed colors only? Are the final mixed colors exact matches for colors mixed with “real” reflex blue?

  5. Posted by Mohawk Fine Papers on 04.24.09 at 2:43 pm

    Great question, Elisabeth.
    According to our “Ink Guys”, Imitation Reflex can be used solo or mixed. The final color will not be an exact match, but it will be darn close. Even with our trained eyes, we find it hard to tell the difference.

  6. Posted by JenniferU on 04.24.09 at 2:46 pm

    Thanks for the informative post. Luckily this is an issue I haven’t had to deal with.

  7. Posted by hydrargyrum on 04.24.09 at 9:50 pm

    Who would’ve ever thought that rubbing would be a variable of the choice of corporate color? Fascinating and hilarious!

  8. Posted by glynnis on 04.25.09 at 2:06 pm

    Really loved reading this. As someone relatively new to letterpress and all the ins and outs of paper selections, I’d never considered “the rub factor.” Fascinating.

  9. Posted by tdw on 04.26.09 at 10:35 am

    Thanks for the great post.
    I was talking about this with one of my printers just last week. His guidance was that if you are printing on uncoated paper, the addition of dull varnish or dull aqueous won’t help because the paper just soaks it up anyway. That differs from another printer’s counsel. I’d be interested in people’s thoughts on that.

  10. Posted by Mohawk Fine Papers on 04.27.09 at 11:46 am

    The Mill uses dull varnish or dull aqueous coatings on everything we print. We recommend you do the same. We do this for rub protection specifically. Your printer could be referring to the fact that you will see no real visual affect from the coatings because it is absorbed, which is true. There are a few benefits other than for rub which we’ll save for a future column.

  11. Posted by mollyrosenthal on 04.27.09 at 2:50 pm

    Thank you Pam McGuire, thank you Mohawk Paper. Once again, Mohawk Paper is on the forefront with another way to communicate with the design/print community. As a Printing Sales Rep that deals with hundreds of designers throughout the country, my hat is off to you, for publishing the Reflex blue story. I have had this as part of my personal sales presentation for years, and designers receive conflicting stories from some printers. The coating is absorbed into the paper and is not seen, but the layer of coating is there for protection. Then as the sheet goes through all the various functions within the bindery, it has the benefit of the coating to help with marking and [email protected] (

  12. Posted by JoeSchember on 04.27.09 at 2:52 pm

    Great article, Pam.

    I have heard about the difficulties with Reflex Blue before, but I didn’t know it was due to it’s chemical makeup.

    Have you had much experience with toner-based digital systems and rub-off? In theory it would seem more susceptible to rub off, since there is little absorption into the sheet. However, I’ve found that theory doesn’t always equal fact in this case.

  13. Posted by freddygirl on 04.28.09 at 2:16 pm

    that’s very interesting – i love the fact that you guys post such great tips and tricks. thx a bunch!

  14. Posted by Stephen W. Croxson on 10.14.16 at 10:33 am

    Pam, Hello from Houston. Just found your post on Reflex Blue… yes the favorite color of corporate America. Thank you for your insight. I was not aware of Imitation RB either. The rub factor of RB has been a concern for years. A recent rebrand of a client revealed that the color RB printed years ago on a business card could still bleed when water was accidently spilled upon it. Spot dull varnish or a overall Silk/Dull AQ will prevent this.

    Stephen W. Croxson
    Principal, Creative Director at Croxson Design

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