How important is digital print color calibration? It’s critical. Poor color calibration causes problems down the road. If colors don’t match how do you repair a damaged vehicle, match last years wrap, or stay true to your brand colors? Good questions. Here are some answers. 

Our VP of Operations at TKO Graphix, Tom McClelland, shared a story with me about a customer who was unable to match the existing rear panel of the vehicle wrap on his monster truck. The truck had a damaged panel. It had been in an accident (what a surprise) and needed replacing. However, when the truck’s owner went back to the graphics company who had printed the original decal, they couldn’t match the color even though the decal was less than a year old, not significantly faded, and was a standard color.

How could this happen? The problem began when the company’s printing equipment had not been color-calibrated, and therefore not monitored. Without controlling these processes, colors are inconsistent. The color may be a standard spot color, but the equipment must be calibrated and monitored daily, or the color could vary significantly.

It’s a Common Theme 

“TKO Graphix national account manager, Chase Yocom, visited Quest Global. They’re a refrigerated freight shipping company out of Cartersville, Georgia. Although they had a vehicle graphics provider, they were willing to keep an open mind to Chase’s standing offer of help. Not long after Chase’s visit, Quest experienced problems with their vehicle graphics and asked for his expert advice. Quest had two challenges with the graphics on their trucks. A recently wrapped vehicle was damaged, and the replacement graphics didn’t match the undamaged areas. The age and condition of graphics can make color matching difficult, but this wasn’t the case. Color matching can be a problem when digital printers aren’t regularly color calibrated. Quest was also dissatisfied with the “graininess” of the image.” — Case Study: Graphics Solution for Poor Color Match

Color Profiling 

Color profiling allows the graphics manufacturer to match a previous print product. Like the monster truck mentioned earlier, calibration requires all equipment to be part of a color-managed workflow. Usually, the control is a Pantone Matching System (PMS), a universal color matching system. “The system works by being the sole provider of printed color swatches where every color has a number designation. To use the system, you must have a Pantone® swatch book, or be provided the Pantone® number from your client. You can then provide the Pantone® number to your printer, and they can use their Pantone® swatch book to make sure the color is correct. You’re both using the same book of colors, so when you specify Pantone #186, the printer can pull that swatch and compare it to the printed product and make adjustments as necessary.” — TKO Tech Talk: Color Matching and Pantone®

Scanning a control color into the software allows uniformity on all equipment and between equipment. In other words, regardless of inks, materials, printer, or the date, the colors will match. Color profiling also allows colors to match whether it is a vinyl decal, poster, sign, or banner. Monitoring color daily and throughout the day will ensure consistency.

Roy G. Biv

“When you think about color, you might remember Roy G. Biv from when you were in school. (Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). This was a nifty acronym that represented Isaac Newton’s discovery that color is intrinsic to light. While his reasons of choosing those seven specific colors remain a mystery, his legacy lives on with color modes.

By setting up your color mode correctly before you send your files to the printer, you can spot any issues when converting RGB to CMYK, and adjust your expectations accordingly or work out a solution with your print vendor. It’s important to choose a print vendor that knows color; TKO Graphix specializes in all kinds of printing methods and offers many services to ensure your color is spot on.” — TKO Tech Talk: Color Modes

Before You Begin, Know What You Want 

Another costly mistake that too many people make is not knowing what color they want. “I asked a friend, who has 20 plus years of vehicle graphic installation, if he ever had anyone ask what the vehicle wrap will really look like. He was quiet for a second and answered sometimes. However, he added, there are times people should ask, and they don’t. He pulled out his phone and showed me a photo of a candy apple red four-door pickup truck. The vehicles’ owner paid more than $3,000 for the warp. The owner didn’t like it. My friend hadn’t wrapped the truck. He was hired to remove the red wrap and wrap it blue. To proof the wrap, he taped a large piece of the blue vinyl on the truck, giving the customer an idea what it would look like after installation. Adding together the first wrap, removal, and applying second wrap, the client will spend more than $7,000.

The story above is a single, privately, owned vehicle, but what if it was a fleet of vehicles? How much could this mistake cost a business? The answer is it could cost a lot of time and money.” — FAQ: What Will the Vehicle Wrap Really Look Like?

Okay, Do You REALLY Want To Know More About Digital Print Color Calibration?

Delta1-E(dE) is a single number that represents the distance between two colors. The human eye can detect color differences of one dE. However, it is not that simple because Light, Chroma and Hue (LCH) affect color perception. Why doesn’t the color on the computer screen always look like the printed version? Monitors use RBG (red, green, blue) pixels, while most printers use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). Plus, the type of material, texture and brightness will also influence perception.

Digital Print Color Calibration isn’t an Option

Before investing in graphics, do your homework. How does the provider handle digital print color calibration? Here are some questions to ask your graphic provider.

  • What color management policies and procedures does the graphics provider use?
  • How does the provider ensure digital print color calibration consistency between equipment, materials, applications, and date of production?
  • What is the company’s delta–E tolerance policy?
  • What are the provider’s approval policies in regards to color?

Don’t Get Pink When You Order Red

How important is digital print color calibration? It’s critical. Unless you don’t care if your flames look pink. I joke, but this is serious. Whether repairing damaged vehicles, matching fleet graphics from one year and the next, or if you want to match other segments of your brand, color calibration is essential. Because without proper color controls, color matching becomes difficult, if not impossible.

Poor color calibration not only leads to lost time and money, but also consider the message sent by your fleet vehicles. When your vehicles don’t match from one year to the next, or a damaged truck looks like a two-tone piece of abstract art, it adversely affects your organization’s reputation. And reputation is more difficult to build up than to tear down.

If we can be of any service, let us know. Be sure to Contact Us if you have any questions because we can match your needs. We know color calibration.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash