Colour Control

Greg Willson

It can be such a maze trying to sort through all factors that affect the output of colours true to an initial design concept. A consistency of branding throughout various media from offset print to digital and web can be such a difficult thing to achieve. I’m sure we’ve all scratched our head at the output from our humble desktop inkjet from time to time!

We need to be aware though that variations will occur by virtue of the colour gamut limitations of each production medium. Consider first some of the following:

The Language of Colour

When talking colour you will hear various phrases and acronyms – here are some basic ones explained.
RGB: Refers to the use of three-colour process (Red, Green and Blue) to produce all the colours. Most commonly what you see on TV or on your computer screen.
CMYK: Refers to four-colour process (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black) to produce all the colours. A combination of tiny dots trick the eye into seeing only one colour. Used in offset printing to produce brochures and catalogues. Your own desktop inkjet printer works the same way – we’ve all replaced enough of those cartridges!

Initial Logo Design

When logo designs are created they are typically brought to life through design programmes such as Adobe Illustrator. Clients’ first viewing of the new brand or logo is usually on a computer screen which displays in RGB (or three colour process). Prior to printing of their corporate stationery clients may often view a proof printed in CMYK or four colour process similar to your home inkjet printer. The finalised logo design will often specify the use of specific PMS colours (Pantone Matching System “spot colours”) for the print process.

Setting Standards

So how do we get maximum control of colours given these variables?
Select and confirm your corporate colour palette specifications from the printed PMS colour guide.

We have this colour guide at the Harmonic New Media office for your reference and most printers will have one. It is an internationally recognised standard with uniform colour guide production rigidly colour controlled worldwide. Even in London, New York or Shanghai yellow PMS 109 looks exactly the same!

Offset Printing

Having selected your colour from the “uncoated” printed guide, check how it looks in the “coated” print guide. It will look much different. You may then specify yellow PMS 109 c for coated stock (i.e. gloss art paper) but yellow PMS 108 u on uncoated paper (i.e. letterheads etc.) because they give the desired match.

[The reason the colours vary from coated to uncoated is that the ink soaks into the uncoated paper more, and where screening (shading) is used the printed dots grow and fill in the white spaces to darken the print.]

When the logo is printed in CMYK (typically on brochures or the printed media) colours will again vary, sometimes dramatically. Oranges are particularly susceptible as is reflex blue. Again, to get a better match check a PMS spot colour to CMYK guide and request the colour specification be amended in the print file. Be mindful of the paper stock to be printed – coated or uncoated, 90gsm Opal bond or 120gsm Splendorgel etc. All will vary the finished look.

[The reason the colours do not match is the limitations of the CMYK colour gamut as the mixing of cyan magenta yellow and black attempts to imitate a solid PMS colour.]

Special Note: Group Run Printing

This is a term used to describe the printing of many unrelated jobs in any colour on the one sheet by imitating all the PMS colours using CMYK four-colour process. These are grouped or ganged up to create economies of scale for the printer. A small portion of the savings sometimes flow to the customer, however there is absolutely no control over the specified corporate colours. Subsequent reprints will most likely bear little or no resemblance to the initial run. As a result the quality of the corporate image so meticulously developed is substantially degraded.

Viewed in a context of faithfully transmitting brand integrity this is to be regarded as an option of last resort only considered in times of extreme poverty!

Signage

Much of this work is produced in CMYK four colour process on to SAV (self adhesive vinyl). The same rules as for CMYK above apply with a particular caution that output can vary from operator to operator depending on many factors*. There is the added advantage that with the short run nature of the machine it is easy to output a small sample of your logo colours before running off the building wrap!

*[The factors I hear you ask? Printer brand, RIP software, SAV brand, colour profile chosen, solvent or eco solvent inks, latex print, DPI, number of passes. The list can go on! The variation can be dramatic – think Elle McPherson to Mother Theresa! Mel Gibson to Danny De Vito!]

For other signage substrates the PMS system is also used as a reference tool in the industry so colour matching of base colours is quite good.

Digital

Again produced CMYK although the toner / inks used are unique. Generally the inks are not absorbed like offset inks on bond paper and produce a clean look closer to intended colours. Similar to wide format digital production a small sample can be produced to establish colour profiling.

Typical Print Problems

Displays of business cards printed CMYK where the corporate look varied from bright red to burgundy!

Photographic business cards with such beetroot complexions as to enquire about their well being.

Shading colour variations between print runs caused by different screening / dot gain from different printers.

Stock cracking on folded brochures.

Solid ink colours that just NEVER dry.

Impression roller marks or “banding” of solid areas.

Incorrect trimming of bled images (i.e. images that extend outside the finished print area)

All too hard?

If you would like to know more or need help then feel free to contact Harmonic New Media for advice or guidance on any difficulties you may be encountering.