Colour challenges: how to choose the right colour for your project
We've all seen the challenge: the colour you thought you were choosing doesn't match the colour that ends up on the printed page.
A good example of the challenge is Pantone 200, a red. The ink formula for Pantone 200 is the same and yet the ink looks very different depending on the sheet, the press type and the ink type used to print the piece.
On traditional presses with traditional inks, Pantone 200 looks darker on an uncoated paper than the same ink looks when printed on a coated paper. This is because the traditional ink, even though it has the exact same formulation, absorbs into uncoated stock more than it does on coated stock. This is not the case with UV inks or digital presses, because with those processes, the ink is dryer and doesn't absorb as much. On a UV ink press or a digital press, when printing on an uncoated paper, the ink stays on the surface, with less absorption, as compared to printing with traditional ink on a traditional offset press. Printing with Pantone 200 on an uncoated sheet using a UV or digital press will look much closer to how it looks on a coated sheet, as compared to how it looks when printed on a traditional press with traditional inks.
You always need to take into account the paper and the process to predict the final appearance of a given ink.
In situations where there can be a lot of variation in final appearance, we can work with you to select a slightly lighter or darker shade of the colour to achieve the look closer to what you see in a swatch book.
how color works
To understand what's going on, we need to take a step back and understand how colour works on the printed page.
Most inks are transparent and act like filters. When light hits the printed page, the ink filters out some of the light, reflecting back to your eyes the colour associated with that ink.
A number of factors impact the colour you then see:
- The finish of the stock, i.e. coated or uncoated
- The type of ink and/or press (UV vs. conventional; offset vs. digital)
- The light source (sunlight, fluorescents, LED, etc.)
- The brightness of the underlying paper reflecting the light
- The CMYK or spot colour printed on the paper that is filtering the light
strategies to manage colour
If colour is critical to you, here are a few things you can do to control your expectations of how a colour will look in your final piece.
- Provide us with a physical sample to which you want us to match your colour as closely as possible.
- Select the colour you want based on the appropriate Pantone Colour Guide. Pantone's Colour Bridge Guide Set provides a library of spot colours, and the best translation into CMYK, HTML and RGB values.
- Always choose your colours using a colour-controlled environment like a light booth.
- Specify papers with a high degree of brightness and recognize that colours will reproduce differently on uncoated vs. coated stocks. Your salesperson can help you choose the right paper for your needs.
You can look at swatches with us if you don't want to spend the money to buy your own swatch book. Have a conversation with your sales rep. Beyond that, keep in mind these books and even the applications you are using are works in progress. The Colour Bridge book, for example, has been released in multiple editions, each revising the conversion values. Your layout, image editing and illustration apps may all may convert to CMYK with slightly different values. If you need an exact match, like with a brand logo, you may want to work with us in advance.
Colour can be a source of beauty but also a source of frustration. Follow these guidelines to get the colour you expect.