Since we all are working with the same basic materials, let’s try and figure out some of the problems that come along when we want to either duplicate a color or create one. Let’s start with the work area.
First, we need good lighting….direct lighting. I suggest a goose-necked halogen lamp so that adjustment can be made easily and quickly. These lamps allow you to focus the light in relatively compact areas. Next and equally as important to the light is a metal surface to act as a palette for pouring plastics on to compare or check for color. We all have aluminum molds and the smooth back-side of a larger mold works good. Next keep your notebook very handy and USE IT and keep your work area uncluttered. Be certain to have a thermometer of some sort, digitals are the best, and learn to use it Most important of all, work when you won’t be interrupted or distracted. Broken concentration will lead to ruined batches.
Next let’s look at some tools you might want to put together. A half dozen 6 ounce Pyrex custard cups should do and a single 1 cup measuring cup to measure only the raw plastic as you need it. You’ll want stabilizer and your color handy as well. Stirring utensils can be handy if kept in an old glass at the back of the work area. I keep my popsicle stir sticks and bamboo skewers in a glass as such. If you hand pour bellies or other small spot of plastic, keep those tools and spoons in the glass too. Toothpicks and sharp or small items get stuck into a 4” X 4” piece of Styrofoam board held on the side of my microwave using two-faced tape.
The first thing we need to understand with colors is that computer monitors, even those high-priced digital suckers, can be woefully inaccurate at color depiction. If you show a color pic of a plastic to 400 people on the internet, you’ll find 400 renditions of that color. Try to have the actual color in hand to get the best copy. Making a new color moves along the same lines here. Work slowly and make additions to your batching in small amounts by using the smaller custard cups and most certainly write down every change to the batch you make even if just a tip of a toothpick of color is added. Begin with the lightest colors and use the darker colors sparingly to adjust along the way. Toothpicks dipped into color can help control how fast a color change happens and can eliminate over-coloring when using the drop count method. Try to get the color you need first and then add hi lites, pearls, or glitters. Be aware that glitters can darken what you have settled on for color and if you are using glitter maybe stop toning down the color just shy of what you want so the end product isn’t darker than you want it to be….this will come with practice. Basic colors are exactly that, very basic. Creating or duplicating colors is another story and the more refined you become in the steps listed above, the better you will be at performing more advanced work and again, this all comes with practice. By keeping things in small quantities, you’ll have less waste if things get away from you, but more importantly color shifts occur faster in small quantities meaning you’ll move ahead a bit faster. As you heat plastics and add colors, you need to re-check the color. This is where the back of the mold comes in. Why the mold back? Because the aluminum mold will reflect light back thru the bait and you’ll get a better idea of the color’s “doneness”. That flat, semi-shiny, surface is as truthful as you can get when it comes to reflected color. Aluminum foil is too shiny and can have wrinkles in it that will throw true color reflection off by refracting [bending the light like a prism does] the light reflected. If the color is used solo, simply pour out a small line of plastic and let it cool enough to handle. Pick it up and hold it near the light to see if it’s what you want. Take it outside and let natural light show on it. Natural light is the truth teller anyway since that’s where you’ll be using it. If you’re happy with it, squirt away by increasing the batch size or just continue to make the smaller batching to shoot with. If you are using this color as a compliment color, lay it back on the mold surface and do the second color the same way as the first, taking time to check it against the first color on the mold. You might be surprised at how fast the second color comes along. Something to consider at this point would be if you are making and shooting very transparent colors. Transparents allow a ton of light to pass through them and that light can really change how the end result looks. Take time to lay the two colors together by the flat sides and take that into natural light. If something needs changing, you’ll know it in a blink. Opaque colors are way less fussy than transparent colors and working with them moves right along as a rule.
I have mentioned skewers and toothpick as tools. The skewers are gotten in a kitchen store and are about 7” long. They are a hair thicker than a toothpick and the ones I use I cut the sharp tip off. I wrap a narrow band of masking tape at the 1/8 inch mark. When I dip one of these in color, I dip just to that tape marker. Toothpick I leave as is point-wise but I mark the 1/8 inch mark with a black fine-line marker. When I use a toothpick, I dip to just below that black line. Using either for dipping, I stir the color into the plastic using that tool until it comes up clean of color. The difference between the dip with a toothpick and a dip with a skewer is huge in quantity when it comes to color especially those colors in the X2 formulas. What might be a skewer dip in regular colorant will generally be a toothpick dip in X2 colors. Using tools like this puts a great deal of control in your hands at mixing time.
Some colors can go into the plastic at any stage of the game while a few of the fluorescents will fight you if they aren’t added cold or aren’t thinned a little. The green chartreuse and chartreuse are bad in this regard; however, by pouring about a teaspoon of raw plastic into a tablespoon and adding these colors to it and mixing it well before adding to hot plastic things work out fine
I mentioned starting light and moving towards the dark when mixing and matching. You can easily darken a light color, but you’ll be a busy person trying to lighten something that’s too dark. One of the reasons I preach “baby steps” is because of this fact.
Some comments on hi lites/pearl powders are needed. The pearls work inside the plastic and can be strong additions. I suggest adding pearls very slowly and in very small quantities, all the while checking the color on the mold back. You’ll need to be very aware that pearls can change the mood of a color in a heartbeat and once the shift goes to too much, you’re looking at starting over. Hi lites work more toward the surface but they too are mixed thru the plastic, but how they work depends on whether the plastic color is a solid, or opaque, or transparent. The solid or opaque colors will easily show the hi lite color at the surface. In a transparent, often times the hi lites will work similar to pearls only at a much finer degree than pearl products. In transparent colors, hi lites can be played as a contrast color: blue hi lite in pink transparent plastic for instance or purple hi lite in blue plastic. Done as such the transparent color will have an almost holographic appearance.
Glitters can be a head ache. Know straight up that glitters can darken a color big time. Working with the small cups will hold color and plastic loss to a minimum should glitters jump up and bite you. Add glitters sparingly until you know how they will behave in the color you are working with.
Don’t be afraid to slop lots of stabilizer around if you are making transparent colors or you are working with light colors…chartreuse and white come to mind as do the clear colors. Re-heats needed to continue customizing a color should get a shoot of stabilizer if the color has a history of scorching. I get the stuff by the pint….hint, hint.
Andrew will feel shunned if I don’t mention the digital thermometer. IR thermometers are quick but they leave a lot to be desired when it come to plastic since they won’t tell the whole story….like what the temp really is at the bottom center of the cup.
Have fun with colors. Creating your own is super rewarding. Successfully re-creating or duplicating a color is just as rewarding. But understand that no color you make or copy is any better than the recipe that you should be writing down. Replication of a custom color you’ve made is even better if you file away a couple actual samples of the plastic color. Snip off a chunk of the sprue from each color in your recipe log and number it along with the recipe. Comparing a re-shoot side by side with an original is way better in my mind than just following a recipe, but the recipe gets you close right now. You can always tweak things to get exact. The bottom line here is that keeping clear, concise records of how you got to each and every color will save a ton of work and plastic waste.
For some of us this is a hobby, for others it’s a business. We’re all pretty much joined at the hip in this though. Learning the ins and outs of plastic takes time and some failures, but hopefully any failures will become a learning experience. Learning to deal with color is perhaps the most complex part of this nifty little trade and I hope that in reading this those of you new to the part or those who are thinking of joining in will find some help in the color department here. Color is an adventure. Like any adventure, take good pictures and share them here. There will always be a new twist to colors and finding one is usually right around your mind’s corner.