You might think you have color down: you had the big box of Crayola crayons as a kid, you know what ROY G. BIV stands for, but you may be surprised at what's behind the color you see, and the role color plays in creating and maintaining your brand.

The Basics of Color

Printed materials are a common method for communicating your brand, and color is a great way to enhance printed material.  Several printing options exist, including rotogravure, offset (web or sheet fed), screen-printing, and laser. Print collateral is traditionally printed using offset presses. Several types of color printing can be done using offset presses. The most common is “four color” (4c), also called “full color,” or “process color” printing, which is done by applying layers of dots on a surface. Four colors are used in this type of printing: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, commonly called CMYK. These layers of dots are called “screens,” and are applied in different combinations to create the desired colors. The colors that can be achieved with CMYK are limited — CMYK can be used to recreate colors found in nature, but not neon or metallic colors.

Another offset printing process, called “spot color,” uses premixed inks like Pantone™, applied in individual layers. Using Pantone colors is a more exact way of achieving accurate color than 4c printing because of the many variables involved, such as the ink density throughout a press run. In addition, only a limited spectrum can be achieved with the four colors used in 4c printing, while there is a wider selection of colors with Pantone. Pantone colors are the colors by which all other spot colors are measured.

A third method of offset printing is a combination of the first two, called “four color plus ‘X’ spot color” (“X” equals the number of spot colors which are used). This method is used to print a piece that needs to be more exact and consistent than can be accomplished with 4c printing alone, such as for printing a unique logo color with Pantone ink or to incorporate neon or metallic colors.

Different printing processes vary widely in price. Offset printing using spot color can be the least expensive because smaller, less costly presses typically can be used, for items such as letterhead. Four color plus additional spot colors is the most costly offset printing method.

Potential Problems

A color problem often arises when businesses switch from using 4c plus spot color, or spot color printing, to 4c printing to reduce print costs. Problems occur because CMYK cannot exactly replicate Pantone or colors created using 4c plus spot color.

While some Pantone colors can be matched fairly closely, others are more difficult. Adding to the problem, some software programs, such as Quark® or Adobe Photoshop®, may interpret the same Pantone color differently — resulting in varying CMYK match formulas for the "same" color. Professional graphic designers often reference the Pantone Color Bridge, which helps designers find the best CMYK match for Pantone colors. The Pantone Color Bridge is updated yearly to incorporate new colors and because over time, the color swatches can be distorted from exposure to light and aging paper.

Other Color Considerations

Another common color problem businesses encounter is maintaining consistent color across mediums. Smart businesses know that it is important to advertise across a variety of mediums — print, Web, and others. Different mediums can drastically alter the appearance of a color — and when a business is branded in part by its logo colors, it is important to make sure those colors appear the same across all mediums. In electronic display, color is defined as RGB (red, green, blue). Color conversion issues can arise when converting to RGB from CMYK or Pantone. In addition, color displays differently on a computer monitor than on printed material. A computer monitor is illuminated, while a printed piece reflects light — affecting the way the color looks. Additionally, the calibration, brand, setting, age, and quality of a computer monitor can cause it to display colors differently than other monitors. Professional graphic designers know how to use calibration programs for monitors, formulas to convert CMYK to RGB, and how to determine which colors will appear the most consistently across a variety of media.

Other media can also affect colors’ consistency. Color appears differently on printed materials depending on the paper stock. With coated printed materials, the colors appear brighter because more light is reflected off of the smooth surface. Colors can also shift when they are applied to fabric, plastic, metal, or even the thread used in stitching a logo onto a promotional item. Other advertising mediums, like TV or billboards, also can distort color. These issues can be circumvented by choosing colors carefully, altering them slightly for specific applications, and having a professional graphic designer convert between Pantone, CMYK, and RGB.

Presenting your company logo inconsistently can reflect poorly on your business — which is why keeping your logo color consistent is important. Matching CMYK, RGB and Pantone colors—and keeping colors consistent—is not an exact science. Rather, it should be considered an art, which is why it is best left to artists. Professional graphic designers, armed with the right tools, are the most qualified for choosing which colors will provide the most consistency, finding the closest match for colors, and adjusting for use across different media—helping to create a stronger and more professional brand image.

Learn more about AVS Group's graphic design services here, and check out our graphic design portfolio


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