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Printing, colour schemes, professional standards

By November 30, 2010March 17th, 2014Print Design

Colour Guides are used in graphic design to help people agree on colours.

This year our company had a breakup with a long-standing client, the dispute involved a disagreement about the final printed colour of a brochure they were printing. They were claiming the colour was wrong, and we maintained the colour was exactly the same as the number they had specified in the Pantone PMS Guide. You could hold the printed brochure up to the Pantone colour guide and see that the colours matched, but the client insisted that the colour did not look the same as the brochure they designed on their computer screen. So is the customer always right?

No, the customer is not always right. If we are going to have a fair an honest relationship with our clients we need to have professional standards. The Pantone Colour Guide is a professional standard because it is a shared point of reference that everybody can agree to, every colour has a number that relates to a colour swatch. Each unique number is identical from guide to guide as it has been printed using the same combination of inks on very similar paper stocks.

The reason the customer was wrong in this instance is because they were relying on their computer screen to match colours to their final printed result and you cannot do this. A computer screen can only be an approximation of what the final colours will look like on a printed page. This is due to several reasons, the most obvious being that computer screens are lit electronically while printed matter is ink on paper, two entirely different mediums. Another major reason is the computer screens display colour using an RGB combination (Red, Blue, Green) whereas full-colour printed matter is generally printed CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) or Special Colours also known as Spot Colours or Pantone Colours. There are printed guides available for all colour systems of printing.

But the customer never agreed they were wrong, even though these professional standards were explained to them, they still insisted that the colour did not match their computer screen, even after visiting the client with Pantone books in an effort to resolve the issue. At this point our company had to walk away and leave the client to find a new printer, itâ??s obvious that the client was bound to run into the same problems (or they had a different agenda anyway).

Every computer monitor displays colour differently, and calibrating them involves a daily routine and keeping the monitor in a room with controlled lighting. Colour appears differently at different times of the day, as the sun rises and falls casting different light into your environment.

â??Color perception is subject to ambient light levels, and the ambient white point; for example, a red object looks black in blue light. It is therefore not possible to achieve calibration that will make a device look correct and consistent in all capture or viewing conditions. The computer display and calibration target will have to be considered in controlled, predefined lighting conditions.â?

from Colour Calibration, Wikipedia

If a company has a logo with a Special Colour, lets call it PMS 300 for arguments sake, they would have a legitimate concern if every time they printed their business stationery, the colour in their logo looked different. This is another reason that Colour Guides are so important. If everybody agrees that the Colour in the Guide is the correct one, it is the printers responsibility to match the colour to the guide. It cannot be the printers responsibility to match the colour to what the clients computer monitor looks like, they would need to make a special trip to the clients office to try and calibrate their press to the clients computer screen, and then once they had run that job, they would need to go to the next clients office to recalibrate their press to the next clientâ??s screen. Clearly this is unpractical compared to having a universal printed colour guide.

So how do you know what your printed job will look like before you go to the large cost of printing? Obviously professional experience gives you a better indication of what colours will look like what in the final result. It can be quite nerve racking printing out your first few jobs and not knowing exactly what it will look like. This experience is multiplied if you are using several special colours and even combining them to produce duo-tones, tri-tones and even quad-tones. But even these experiments in colour can be well anticipated with some experience.

Another tool that can help is professional proofing. This costs a bit of money, but generally is a fraction of the final printing costs and can warn you about any possible issues in the artwork. There are various colour proofing system standards, if you are interested they are all covered on Wikipedia here.

If you are printing are large-run job, you might consider doing a press-check. This involves watching the first item that comes off the press to make sure there are no disasters and can save a lot of money if it is a large job.

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