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Where did Reflex Blue come from?

The origins and modern uses of Reflex Blue

This is the most commonly used blue in printmaking. Reflex blue is considered to be a true blue. The colour can be frustrating to colour match to due to it’s partially blue-violet colour like indigo. The colour is used for forms mostly but I have seen it used for other types of prints like contracts, letters and charts.

Reflex Blue HEX code #001489

Reflex blue was invented by the print and ink company Ault & Wiborg Company in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. Levi Addison Ault was a Canadian born railroad worker and bookkeeper before following his brother to Ohio to sell lamp black. Frank Bestow Wilborg a college educated newspaper salesman who went to work with Ault around 1874. They created the company Ault & Wilborg to sell inks and lithographic supplies in America. One of their first ventures in ink was using coal-tar pigments for bright colours for inks. They were expanding their catalogue of colours. The company hired two chemists one from Germany the other one from America to help expand their catalogue of colours. They ended up with a series of reds and blues that were sold by them. The colours were U.S. Red and Reflex Blue. The demand for their colours grew when lithographic print became the norm in printing. They became the largest ink distributor in the world. During the 1880’s the colours from the Ault & Wilborg were used in letterpress made advertisements in various publications. Reflex blue was originally a deep cobalt extracted for its colour.

Most people once used these inks for typewriters for the home and office use. They were already a standard set of colours that derived from Ault & Wilborg’s catalogue. Charcoal Black, U.S. Red, Reflex Blue and Emerald Green were the set of standard colours for typewriters. The inks were sold as a standard set.

Reflex Blue Original Ad
Advertisement of Reflex Blue Ink with U.S. Red from Ault & Wilborg

After the company, Ault & Wilborg sold the dye catalogue to Swiss company, Ciby, Geigy and Sandoz and sold the ink making and other departments to the reformed Cincinnati Chemical Works after their retirement. The Swiss company never had a formula for the dyes. The full company in 1928 was sold to Interchemical Corp. The company Ault & Wilborg left on top as a leader of ink manufacturing and had plants on four continents.

Interchemical Corporation did a lot of research and printing for products for the home, office and urban environments. They were very active in the 1950’s to 1960’s with their research. They experimented on printing without resins and colorants and focused on using organic materials for their products. They were no longer based out of Cincinnatti, Ohio but moved to New York City, New York State. This might mean that the formula for the original Reflex Blue ink might of changed over the years of ownership to Interchemical corporation. And U.S. Red changed over the years too. They were apart of the American Chemical Society association. This company was in and out of court with filings from patents discrupties to antitrust violations but had a lot of patents during the time of operations The company is now closed. Their catalogue most likely went to various ink plants.

Image of an advertisement of Interchemical Colours
Image of an advertisement of Interchemical Colours

Companies like Pantone only kept the truest form of the colours and their name Reflex Blue for their collection. U.S. Red just became red ink. This could of been because of the closure of Interchemical Corp and the ink formulas going to various places.

Due to the legacy of this colour, Reflex Blue is a very important colour to know about when designing, especially for print because design choices can change depending on the type of paper used for the order. This colour can smudge easily during the drying process. This could attributed to the amount of water used in the offset printing process, the type of plate needed for the job (polyester vs. metal) or the ink itself. The paper choice can play a part in this delayed of drying if the thickness of the paper and what type of paper it is taken into account. Whether it is a text stock or a cover stock. Some printers might recommend uncoated paper to produce prints with Reflex blue. Most forms are usually blue to be able to distinguish the black ink that’s writing down the information with the blue information part of the form. This was particularly helpful for carbonless paper before photocopying. Carbonless paper would copy the writing from the top layer to the rest of the layers of paper because of dusted carbon on the sheets of paper.


Colormetrix – Where does the name Reflex Blue come from?
Color History – Reflex Blue
Code99 – The Ault & Wilborg Poster Album
Interchemical Corporation Ad.

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