Color challenges: how to choose the right color for your project
We've all seen the challenge: the color you thought you were choosing doesn't match the color 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.
Here is an example of the challenge. 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 color to achieve the look closer to what you see in a swatch book.
To understand what's going on, we need to take a step back and understand how color 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 color associated with that ink.
A number of factors impact the color 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 color printed on the paper that is filtering the light
If color is critical to you, here are a few things you can do to control your expectations of how a color will look in your final piece.
- Provide us with a physical sample to which you want us to match your color as closely as possible.
- Select the color you want based on the appropriate Pantone Color Guide. Pantone's Color Bridge Guide Set provides a library of spot colors, and the best translation into CMYK, HTML and RGB values.
- Always choose your colors using a color-controlled environment like a light booth.
- Specify papers with a high degree of brightness and recognize that colors will reproduce differently on unocoated 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 Color 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.
Color can be a source of beauty but also a source of frustration. Follow these guidelines to get the color you expect.