Loupe sitting on press sheets for colour analysis

Ideas Amplified™ | The Flink Blog

“Colour Me Confused,” My Client Said…

Colour looks different on print ads and brochures than on screens. Improve colour & brand consistency by learning what's possible & what's not.

Ever notice how the corporate colour on your vehicles looks all wrong online? Or how the PowerPoint presentation you loved onscreen looked terrible printed out? You’re not going crazy and your office equipment is likely ok. It’s due to the different ways we see colour and represent colour.

It’s a pain, but it’s possible with a little knowledge to plan for it. Here’s a little info on colour that should help. There are essentially 2 different ways we try to represent colour…

1. Additive Colour: RGB for screens

When we’re looking at computer screens, web content or tv, we’re seeing light in colours projected at us. Very little light and we get blacks. Add up the red, green and blue lights shining at us from inside our monitors and we have white.

Different amounts of the 3 colours displayed on top of each other give us all the different colours. These colours are specified in terms of their RGB values where 255/255/255 would be white and 0/0/0 would be black as the max amount of each value varies from 0 to 255. With a possible 256 times 256 times 256 that equals a total possible number of colours of 16,777,216. Depending on who you ask, this is slightly fewer colours than the human eye can perceive.

2. Subtractive Colour: CMYK for print

Colour in print is subtractive and is made by laying inks on top of each other effectively subtracting parts of the spectrum of light reflecting back to our eyes. Usually, this is a combination of cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks arranged in fine dot patterns called halftones, to create a simulation of other colours. It does a pretty good job but can’t display as many colours as RGB due to the way it removes the light from coming to our eyes.

2B. And another option: Spot colours for print

Spot colours, most often Pantone™ Matching System (PMS) spot colours, are mixed like paint and provide the exact colour you want, without the need for the halftone dots of the CMYK model. This is a great option when you absolutely MUST have your exact corporate colour and no amount of variance is acceptable.
And one more (for the geeks and those with deeper pockets)…

2C. Six and eight colour printing:

Instead of running the typical mix of CMY and K (black), Pantone’s Hexachrome System added orange and green as well for a wider array of colour possible. While Hexachrome was discontinued a few years back, many high-quality printers still offer 6 and more colour options to attempt to display better colour fidelity on the press. Just be aware. You’ll be spending some serious money on printing.

“Um. Ok. Why should I care?”

Well, for example, say your corporate colour is Blue, PMS 300. It will look different on-screen than it does in print and may be different again if you print on glossy paper vs uncoated paper. When you work on developing your corporate branding, take the time early on to find the colour values for CMYK (4c print), PMS (spot) and RGB (or Hex colour for web). An experienced designer can help you lock down these values at the beginning so that your brand isn’t blue onscreen, purple-ish in print and blue-grey on your printed coffee mugs.

There will always be some variance due to the way light works vs the way ink works, but with a bit of forethought, a copy of PhotoShop and a Pantone Color Guide or two, you can achieve a consistent brand, wherever your brand shows up; PowerPoint, website, print ad or on a coffee mug.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR / / / Brent Flink is an award-winning graphic designer, marketer and the founder and Creative Director of Flink Branding, a Vancouver-based food & beverage brand design firm. He specializes in helping food and beverage brands find their authentic voice and build brands that build companies. brent@flink.ca

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