Have you ever spent a long time picking just the right colour for your design only to find that the colour looks completely different on the printed piece from what you were seeing on your screen?
Why does this happen?
When you design a printed piece, you do so using a computer which displays all colours--even CMYK and Pantone colour palettes--using an RGB colour monitor. When you send your design to print, the printer translates your colour settings to the closest equivalent ink mixture. Sometimes this conversion in colour results in something that is very close to what you saw on your screen, while other times it looks completely different.
Why can’t every colour be represented in each colour mode?
The human eye is capable of visualizing a much broader range of colour than can ever be produced on screen or in print. Colour gamut describes the portion of the visual spectrum of colour that can be accurately represented by a particular colour mode. Portions of each colour mode gamut do overlap--meaning that some colours can be converted to produce similar results. That being said, there are also portions of each gamut that do not overlap meaning those colours simply cannot be created in that colour mode. For example, you selected a bright, vibrant RGB colour that looks amazing on screen, but are disappointed to find the printed result is dull or muddy after being converted to a printable CMYK format. This is due to the colour being ‘out of gamut’ and thus the closest equivalent that could be used was quite a distance away--a very different colour.
What are the different modes of colour?
The RGB colour mode describes the colours red, green and blue that when mixed together in varying amounts create the colours seen on televisions, smart phones, tablets and computer monitors. This mode is device dependent, meaning that the same colour may look different on different monitors based on factors such as manufacturer, age and calibration.
The CMYK colour mode describes the colours cyan, magenta, yellow and black. These four colours make up the inks used in digital and offset printing.
The Pantone company created specific colours in attempt to bring standardization to printed results. Colours are shown in books of samples swatches, each with a number and details on what ink ratios are needed to create that colour. Pantone colours can be used on their own or in combination with CMYK inks. The goal of Pantone was to create colour ‘recipes’ that any printer could blend. While this may sound good in theory, there are still a number of things that can affect the result of this recipe. Paper stock (coated vs uncoated), paper brightness, finishing coats and whether the person mixing up the ink components gets the recipe correct!
How to get more predictable print colour results
Never pick a print colour based solely on what you see on your screen. Refer to colour sample books (a CMYK process colour manual or Pantone colour books) to determine how the colours on your screen will translate into print. When initially selecting a new corporate or logo colour, use a ‘colour bridge’ to select a colour that has similar results in RGB, CMYK and Pantone colour modes. Last but not least, provide your print supplier with a Pantone number or a sample of the colour you are expecting. A good printer should be willing and able to help you achieve the result you are looking for and help you avoid any surprises!
© Cathy Vandergeest, RGD, gawck group inc.