Glow-in-the-dark printing: unpossible!

We still don't have a new batch of DNA stickers or business cards because I insisted that this time, they have to glow in the dark.

You are hopefully aware that our economical and stylish DNA Lounge t-shirts glow in the dark. The way this works is, they are actually a two-color screen-print. The black shirt has the image printed on it in the proper green color, and then a second layer is printed over that with the "glow" ink, which is actually a transparent ink with the magic glowy pixie-dust mixed in. (Possibly it's made from unicorns and not pixies, I'm not entirely clear on that.)

Everyone we have talked to so far has said that this can't be done on paper. Either they claim ignorance of having ever heard of glow-in-the-dark ink, or they say that the glow ink used on shirts is too thick to go through an inkjet or whatever-it-is that they print stickers with.

It seems that everyone who advertises an ability to print glow-in-the-dark on paper (stickers, business cards, etc.) actually do this by printing opaque ink on glow-in-the-dark vinyl, masking out the areas that don't glow.

The problem is, that gets you the usual pale-yellow glow color that you're used to seeing on cheap toys. I need green, not yellow. Like we have on the shirts.

I guess our only option at this point is to find someone willing to silkscreen our stickers and cards?

I can't that believe something so obvious (again) turns out to be so hard.

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41 Responses:

  1. Otto says:

    There's two kinds of ways to make glow in the dark inks. There's true glow in the dark inks, which use phosphorescence, and then there's UV inks, which use fluorescence. There's also radioluminescence, but you probably don't want to be radioactive for any length of time.

    The phosphorescent inks are the one you usually see that are green. These are the ones that absorb light and then re-emit it later. The fluorescent ones are simply UV sensitive, and glow in the presence of a black light or other UV light sources.

    For making either of them into inks, generally you have tiny spheres of a powder mixed into the ink in some manner. To make it thin enough to be used on paper, the powder would have to be super fine, and there would have to be quite a lot of it on a coating so thin to even be visible. This is why it pretty much doesn't exist.

    It is possible to get/make glow-in-the-dark printer inks, but they universally suck. The powder is just spread too thin and it ends up looking more sparkly than glowy. Fluorescent inks work better in thinner coats, but like you noticed, they don't really hold their glow for any length of time.

    • Otto says:

      Forgot to mention, with phosphors, there's also a problem with glow intensity. As the particles get smaller, the intensity of the light they produce falls off rapidly. So if you make them too small, then you can't see the glow anymore. Which is why they have to be in thicker coats.

      • Jered says:

        Thank you for explaining why glow inkjet ink is so hard. None of this applies to Real Men's printing processes.

        • Otto says:

          True that, but in any such more traditional printing process, the ink still has to be thin enough to be used on the paper and hold to it properly. Can't use thick ink on thin paper. At a certain point, you get diminishing returns.

          • Jered says:

            If the printer can't take my hand off if it's having a bad day, I have no interest in using it.

    • jwz says:

      "Ra-di-a-tion. Yes, indeed. You hear the most outrageous lies about it. Half-baked goggle-box do-gooders telling everybody it's bad for you. Pernicious nonsense. Everybody could stand a hundred chest X-rays a year. They ought to have them, too!"

  2. Jered says:

    You should be able to get this done by an actual print shop... you know, the sort of place that uses offset presses rather than these newfangled digital things. It sounds like a simple two color job on black stock to me.

    If you were in Cambridge, I would tell you to ask Minuteman Press. I have no suggestion for SF. You could check *cough* *spit* Yelp. Also, these people look like they are around the corner from you, so you could bang on their door (and tell them that their website is ugly): Club Card Printing

    Good luck!

    • Jered says:

      Oh; you may need to bring your own ink pot. Here's one vendor with a passable website. I haven't used them personally.

    • pavel_lishin says:

      > If you were in Cambridge, I would tell you to ask Minuteman Press.

      This is 2011. Surely they can ship things all the way to the other ocean.

    • jwz says:

      I can assure you that, "Hey, maybe to get things printed, we should call a whole bunch of people who actually print for a living!" is not something that hadn't occurred to us.

      Jesus Christ.

      • Jered says:

        Yeah, but people who advertise that they print business cards and stickers don't actually do real printing these days.

        My next step would be to call CTI (the guys who make the glow ink I posted below) and get a referral to a local shop that buys from them.

      • Jered says:

        This place is on my walk to/from work. If you're still not having luck and can send me a piece of sample art, I'd be happy to stop in and see what they think of the CTI ink. I used to do offset printing and every day I walk by and the fumes make me nostalgic...

  3. pavel_lishin says:

    I recommend finding an empty building next to the club or pizza shop, and extending your business empire to encompass printing glow in the dark stickers and business cards, as well. It's clearly the only reasonable solution.

  4. qtrnevermore says:

    latex or acrylic glow in the dark paint/ink, hand painting hundreds of cards/stickers, with possible assist of a stencil... I haven't yet learned the art of print-making/silkscreen yet. if all else fails, you have at least one volunteer artist hand, atleast until a robot version happens.

    • jwz says:

      Though it's true that we don't sell a whole lot of stickers, doing them all by hand sounds ridiculously time-consuming...

      Oh, and surprisingly enough, we also can't find a source for green-on-black pizza boxes without crazy numbers like $8k plate-setup fee plus minimum order sizes in range of two thousand boxes per size (and we need 3-5 sizes of box). I'm not yet convinced that buying our own silkscreen rig isn't the right solution there...

      • Adolf Osborne says:

        Can you get plain, black pizza boxes without absurd minimums?

        Can you screen-print pizza boxes with green ink, yourself, without running afoul of the FDA?

        If so: Can you stencil it, instead? Spraying paint (and I don't mean from a rattle-can) is faster than silk-screening, and only roughly as messy.

        Or, you know: Just put a sticker on it, at least for now. Print up a bunch of round 6" DNA Pizza logos on cheap, paper-based sticky-backed stock, green-on-black, and just smoosh one onto the top of each box as it goes out (in random orientation), or whenever the boxes get assembled.

        (As an anecdote: The local pizza places here can all manage to find time to glue, by hand, 4-to-6 color wet-offset glossy coupons to each box. And our pizza in Ohio is cheap compared to yours. And they've generally got custom box printing as well, even if they've only got one or two locations, though none of that print is predominantly black.)

        • Robert says:

          That's not a bad idea- plain black pizza box with fancy green on black coupon crap. That'd be much more vibrant than what you'd get on standard cardboard colors, and truth be told... why spend more than you have to on the box when it's just going to get thrown away... there are no other places that use black pizza boxes, so "trash-branding" is covered and much better to invest in coupon stuff that can be taken off and stuck on the fridge / wall.

          • Adolf Osborne says:

            I doubt that even a half-assed paper sticker will be removable from rough-surfaced corrugated cardboard with sufficient exposed adhesive remaing for it to live a second life as fridge/wall sticker...but that's not the point.

            I mean: If he wants to sell stickers, he can just, you know, sell them. If they cost 50 cents each, just charge $1 per virgin DNA Pizza sticker and be done. Especially if there's a pile of them sitting right there next to the oven along with the boxes...

            The point is this: Stickers can be very cheap. Further down on this page, you can see that Jamie might actually have a source for black pizza boxes. A green-on-black sticker would look just fine on a black box: After all, it's generally just trash (and branding!) anyway, but that doesn't mean it's not important...

            And, as you say: Nobody uses black boxes for pizza. A plain black box, by itself and without a logo, would entice enough lunchroom banter to spread the word about DNA Pizza to accomplish the goal of gaining eyeballs.

            A plain black box with a sticker would do even better, but cost more -- perhaps substantially so, once it's all said and done. But I think, as a pizza-eater, that it'd be very interesting. Probably even interesting enough to remember the name of it, following the resultant conversation.

            And it doesn't even need a phone number, IMHO. The conversation, whether resultant of a plain black box or a black box with green on-black sticker, will be sufficient to brand the term "DNA Pizza" into the brain of the person consuming the food.

            (But what do I know? I'm the sap that turned JWZ off of Linux forever with a bad suggestion about a sound card.)

  5. Ben Brockert says:

    I hope you use this stuff for the business cards, it has data. Everything is better with data.

    It's a bit yellower than pure green, but it's apparently super fucking bright compared to everything else.

  6. qtrnevermore says:

    alternatively for cards in the past i have done the 'embossing with stamp' method, it's usually a powder that applies and sets with heat.

  7. Qtrnevermore says:

    Tell you what, I know from places I've been to, and independent artists who screen themselves, that they don't run cheap... But do pay themselves off after a while.
    If you get one, I'd like to learn & pay rental time with it for my own work as well as help out DNA. And I'm sure there are other artists who would pitch in too. so that too could cheap'n your budget there. No idea where you'd put it... chemicals!

  8. BadgeGuy says:

    From personal use 6 years ago, you might try talking to Brightec ( Their products glowed green for me, but that was 6 years ago. This is something that I cranked out quickly with an unprinted sheet next to it:

    It has been cropped and re-sized, but no color alterations have been made.

  9. fantasygoat says:

    Give Diesel Fuel Prints a call or email:

    They screenprint stickers all the time and it's really cheap. Ask for Andy and tell him Jeremy from Popfuel sent you.

    As for printing your boxes yourself, there's quite a few screenprinters in SF who I could hook you up with, but getting black boxes would be the hard part.

    • jwz says:

      We may have a line on plain black boxes. I just hope that doing a 2-color screen-print on a pre-die-cut 26"×50" (or whatever) sheet is practical.

      Though I could live with white boxes. But getting any boxes with our logo on it has seemed prohibitively expensive so far (unless we do something truly halfassed like putting a white sticker on a plain white box).

      • fantasygoat says:

        The pre-cut box isn't a problem - I've screened on wood blocks, album covers and other oddly-shaped stuff plenty of times. 26" x 50" should fit on most large format paper presses as well - it would certainly have fit on any of my manual or automatic presses. I charged $2/colour plus setup and I was on the high end of pricing.

        The only issue I can think of with the boxes is most people print with water-based inks, which isn't waterproof - so you'd probably want to go with UV inks.

        Talk to Lil' Tuffy:

        He probably can't do the volume you'd need or UV inks, but he'll certainly know someone close by who will. Barring that, Andy at Diesel can certainly do it but he's in Portland so shipping and whatnot might be an issue.

      • Art Delano says:

        Generic pizza guy artwork with the chef's head replaced by a Cthulhoid horror would not fit the color scheme, but it might be in the spirit of things.

  10. Amy says:

    I work in a print shop with an off-set press, and I'm in the bay area. I'll email myself a reminder to ask my bosses about glow in the dark options for you tomorrow. I'm not sure if we'd have a way to do the stickers, but if we can get ink to go in our press I know we'd be happy to run your cards.

      • Amy says:

        I'll run it past them, but I'm not sure if that would work. First of all, it sounds like it's not a transparent ink that you'd coat over the green, it sounds like it's that same pale yellow that the glow in the dark plastics are, which defeat the goal we're aiming for here.

        One of my bosses looked through his sources this morning, and didn't find anything useful. More or less the same thing that jwz found, screen printing inks only. I don't know if any of our screen print vendors will do it on anything other than shirts though. We're a little swamped in the shop this week, but I'll try to follow up on that information soon.

        • DFB says:

          I have a feeling there is a ratio of mixing with ordinary green ink which will achieve the desired effect. Am I ignoring the relative opacity of green ink?

          Doesn't the glow in the dark medium need to be translucent? There must be a green pigment which is also translucent at some optimal dilution inside the glow ink.

          • Amy says:

            I don't have the first hand experience with the mixing of the press inks, but from what I've been understanding, both of the discussions here as well as the discussion I had with my boss in regards to this... the thing that makes the ink glow is suspended in the ink you're laying down, for it to be visible, it's best suspended in a transparent ink and laid of the top of something else. I suspect that in order to get the right green when mixed with a whiteish-yellow ink, you'd end up diluting down the part involving the glow in the dark agent, and it won't glow very well.

            • DFB says:

              My experience with pigments does not include offset printing inks, but I can not think of any reason why it would not be possible to tint a pale translucent base. What is the chance that the people at CTI Inks have not had this question? At this point I'd say picking up the phone and asking them is the most economical first step. Good luck!

  11. Stuart says:

    Shouldnt the pizza boxes have thermochromic ink on them ? you know if were spending your money why not spend a lot.

  12. Niczar says:

    I don't see why you couldn't screen-print the pixie goo on paper, it's used to print on about everything but Teflon: glass (that's how novelty drinking glasses or jars are printed), vinyl signs, aluminum signposts, some packagings ... The limitation is that it has a rather poor resolution, but for the purpose at hand (depositing a rather transparent layer), it's definitely not a problem. It's bound to be much more expensive though.

    How are your current stickers made? Are they printed on actual paper or are they vinyl? If the latter, they are likely screen-printed, unless there is a cheaper process which I'm not familiar with (I haven't had first hand experience with the printing industry for almost two decades).

    If you can find the reference for the goo, you could try printing some yourself to see how it works and show it to a screen printing company. Screen printing is expensive labor-wise and scales extremely poorly compared to basically every other process (offset, typography, laser, flexo, ... even inkjet), but on the plus side it's the one with the least initial investments: you can buy a screen, frame, ink, masking ink and a swiping tool for the price of a cheap laser printer — and you know how cheap those are. Just manually roughly replicate your design on the screen, and print over your existing stickers.

  13. Jessee Powell says:

    I can print UV Ink on glow in the dark vinyl media with our LEC-540 which also die cuts.

    The link below is us printing a glow in the dark decal for an iphone

    Contact me if your interested