Have you ever noticed that the colors you see on your monitor or desktop printouts don’t exactly match the colors on the pieces you get professionally printed? My goal today is to help you understand why this sometimes happens, and how you can better manage your print jobs to ensure a better color match. First, it’s important to understand some lingo we use in the design and printing world. Here are a few abbreviations we use, and what they represent:
• RGB – refers to the colors red, green and blue
• CMYK – stands for cyan (blue), magenta (red), yellow and black
• PMS – stands for Pantone Matching System®
The differences between RGB and CMYK
RGB is used in computer monitors, digital cameras, scanners and art designed for the Web. RGB is used for Web work, whereas CMYK and PMS are used for print work. For best results, your artwork should be created in PMS or CMYK from the start, not created in RGB and then converted later on.
Why doesn’t the color on my monitor match the printout?
The colors that you see on your computer screen may not exactly match what is reproduced by a high quality offset printing press — or, for that matter, even your desktop printer. Your computer monitor is calibrated in RGB — due to the different color models and the wide variation in monitor technologies, the colors will be similar, but not exact. Because of these differences the colors from one monitor to another may be quite different; therefore, you can’t realistically judge or compare what you see on screen to a printed product.
Another avenue you can’t use to “match” press colors is the desktop printer. If you print a sample on your inkjet or laser color printer, there may be instances of substantial variations from the high quality produced from an offset lithographic printing press. This is due to the widely-varying results from different output devices including inkjet, thermal, dye sublimation and color laser printers, papers, inks, materials and even printers. Bottom line: when placed side-by-side, it is unlikely that the printed product you get from your commercial printer will match the colors on your monitor or a printout from your desktop printer. If your color is critical, be sure to order a color approval proof to be printed on the same material as your final graphics.
Offset Press Printing
Most high quality commercial printing is done on an offset press using a four-color process called CMYK. As I mentioned before, CMYK stands for cyan (blue), magenta (red), yellow and black. These four colors are used to create the various shades of color on any given product. Offset printing can be 1-,
2-, 3- or 4-color. A separate film needs to be shot for each of the colors. Each time a color is added to the press, the press has to be washed down and the new ink added. Hence, the more colors used, the more expensive the printing costs.
Spot colors are used most frequently for one and two color jobs and when an exact color needs to be produced every time. Logos are perfect examples for spot colors. The Pantone® PMS color matching system is most frequently used for selection and printing of spot colors. For example, if your logo or brand is represented with a distinctive blue, be sure to let your commercial printer know this color needs to match a specific PMS. This number will then be matched on the press to deliver the exact result you need. If your logo wasn’t created in PMS colors then you will need to try and match your color using a Pantone Guide.
Will my graphics match our Pantone® (PMS) solid ink colors?
To see how your PMS solid ink colors will reproduce in CMYK, it is suggested you review a Pantone® Color Bridge, or as it used to be known, a solid to process guide at Pantone’s Web site. The guide shows what happens when you reproduce Pantone Matching System® (PMS) colors in CMYK. Although many can be successfully simulated, a large majority cannot due to the limitations inherent in 4-color process (CMYK) printing. The fan guide displays Pantone® colors on stock alongside their closest 4-color process match. The CMYK screen values are provided for each process color.
As you can tell, printing issues and lingo can be a lot to take in. But by understanding the printing process, and the obstacles that can come up during it, you ensure that there won’t be any surprises waiting for you the next time you visit the printer. Stay tuned for more design tips in blogs to come…