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Top 10 Things Designers Hate: Color Edition

rainbow-colorsLately we’ve been talking a lot about color! In keeping with that, number 5 in the Things Designers Hate series is a common question:

5) “Why don’t the colors print like they look on my computer screen?”

The question itself isn’t exactly the problem. Rather, the issue is that many clients don’t ask it until the job is nearly complete. A client may assume that an image she sees on her computer will look precisely the same printed out. When this turns out to not be the case, aggravation and frustration invariably ensue. The client is disappointed that she didn’t get what she was expecting, and we’re frustrated because we want the client to be happy—and we don’t want to have to go back to the drawing board at late stages in the design process.

This can be easily avoided! You simply need to know the difference between viewing images on a computer and viewing a printed image, so that you can factor that in when communicating with your designer.

It all comes down to two simple, but important, abbreviations: CMYK and RGB. 

RGB refers to the primary colors of light: Red, Green, and Blue. These are the colors used by your computer monitor (and any other light-operated system, like the lighting rig at concerts or theatre performances, for example) to create all the colors in the spectrum. When it comes to light, white is made up of all the colors, and black is no light at all.

CMYK is the term used to quickly refer to the process by which images are printed in color. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK. With pigment, the process is the opposite of light: white space is achieved by using no color, and black is a combination of all the colors. Black is also added to a given pigment to darken it.

color mixing in light (left) vs. pigment (right) works differently. In this image you can see that the primary colors of light (Green, red, and blue) mix to create white, while the primary colors of pigment (Magenta, Yellow,  and Cyan) mix to create black. This is the fundamental difference between how we see color on our screens and how we see it printed! Image courtesy of sciencelearn.org.nz.

Color mixing in light (left) vs. pigment (right). In this image you can see that the primary colors of light (Green, red, and blue) mix to create white, while the primary colors of pigment (Magenta, Yellow, and Cyan) mix to create black. This is the fundamental difference between how we see color on our screens and how we see it printed! Image courtesy of sciencelearn.org.nz.

Since the images viewed on your screen are created with light, turning the screen brightness up or down, or altering the “contrast” setting, will change how those images appear. It is unlikely that your designer’s computer is set to the exact same settings as your computer, so a design sent to you online will not look exactly the same on your screen as it looked on your designer’s screen. When the image is printed, it will again be subject to color variation.

The Pantone color book. You can see that the colors on the left of the page are “RGB” and the colors on the right are “CMYK.”  The book depicts roughly the difference you can expect between computer images and printed images.

The Pantone color Guide. You can see that the colors on the left of the page are “RGB” and the colors on the right are “CMYK.” The book depicts roughly the difference you can expect between computer images and printed images.

You can avoid surprises when it comes to color by using a Pantone color guide. Pantone colors are standardized using numbers, so when your designer says they’re using Pantone blue #285PC, you can refer to the book to see how it will look when printed. Printers also use the Pantone guide, so their colors should be exactly the same as the colors shown in the book. By referring to the Pantone guide, you can get a good idea of what to expect from the colors in your printed ad, even if you’re looking at it on a computer screen. You can also always request a printed sample before finalizing the design, just to make sure it looks how you expect it to.

By keeping in mind that colors will differ from screen to page, and using the Pantone book as a resource, you can avoid unnecessary confusion and keep things running smoothly with your designer!

 

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Design Glossary

DesignGlossary

Alignment: This term is use to refer to the position of the text in body copy. Alignments can be flushed left / ragged right, flushed right / ragged left, centered, and justified which means it is both aligned flush right and flushed left.

Aqueous Coating: A protective coating on a printed piece applied by the printer to enhance the printed surface.

Bitmap: A collection of individual dots or pixels in a computer graphics.

Bleed: This means we extend beyond the border or margin so when it is trimmed it “bleeds” off the edge.

Camera-Ready Art: Artwork is prepared to be photographed for a press plate and is ready to print. No additional work needs to be done before it goes to press.

CMYK: This is the abbreviation for process colors or “full color”…they stand for cyan blue, magenta red, yellow and black (K).

Die Cut: A finished printed piece that has a unique cut to the piece. For instance if you have a rounded shape, this is “die cut” from sharp blades to create its unique shape.

Duotone: Two colors combined make a duotone. A vintage photo look can be created with a sepia brown and black, combined it looks like one color but its actually two.

Em Dash: A long dash used in punctuation. (Em is a unit of measuring the width of printed text that is equal to the height of the type size being used).

Gutter: The term refers to the space between columns of type or in a center spread of 2 pages, the gutter is the middle where the catalog or magazine is bound.

Kern: To reduce the letter space between characters or type.

Low-Resolution: This describes the image on a computer that has a low number of pixels per square inch. Printing needs a hi-resolution of 300 dots per inch (dpi).

Moiré: (Pronounced “mo-ray”) This is an undesirable effect found in a halftone print resulting from interfering patterns caused by incorrect screen patterns. If you scan a photo that has halftones and put it in a document that is printed again, a moiré pattern will happen.

Pantone: A collection of colors used in printing that is a global matching system that all printers use. These colors are numbered and used across the print industry to have the same system in place to match each other.

PMS: No ladies, not that! In the design world this stands for Pantone Matching System.

Runaround: In typography, the text would go around an image such as a photo or illustration this is also known as runaround.

SWOP: In printing this is a color standard for proofing which stands for Specifications for Web-Offset Printing.

Vector Graphic: Vector art that is object oriented by use of points, lines, curves and shapes which can be resized without it being halftones. If you send a picture that is a fixed size image, enlarging it will look blurry. Vector graphics can be sized and will not lose the quality of the image.

Watermark: A translucent logo in paper created during manufacturing so that the design is faint yet visible when held against the light which usually identifies the maker.


The Color Makes the Difference

At Cheep Cheep Postcards and Cheep Cheep Websites we work with color everyday. Artists use three basic color standards. Two are for print and the other is for web and digital. We always provide the correct color type for the intended application but we wanted to share a little of that knowledge for you.

Print Color

Printers use the Pantone Matching System (PMS) for their ink standards and CMYK for offset printing. The Pantone Matching system (or PMS) colors specify over a thousand ink colors by number and is used in all commercial printing process. Pantone spot colors, each with a reference number, is used to specify definite colors. CMYK, also called process colors, stands for 4 color inks that when mixed together create all the colors of the spectrum possible. The 4 colors, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black are used for producing print work. Pantone inks are usually used for 1-3 color printed projects or in addition to the 4-color process (CMYK). When we print your Cheep Cheep Postcards we use (CMYK), the 4-colors that make up ALL colors for the full color affect.

CMYK

Digital and Web Color

Color on your computer monitor, scanner and digital camera is different than CMYK and PMS colors. Red, green and blue (RGB) light is used to display color on these mediums.  All websites and email marketing blasts use RGB colors to create the full spectrum of colors. Certain RGB colors that you can see on your monitor simply can’t be replicated with standard CMYK inks. But the shift in colors is not that noticeable except when using very bright colors.

RGB

Here at Cheep Cheep Postcards and Cheep Cheep Websites we are familiar with all color models and always provide the right file for the right application. When developing a new logo or branding identity it is best to define your call in all three color systems—RGB, CMYK and PMS. If you have any questions regarding the color or color systems, please give us a call. We are here to help!