Have you ever tried to describe a color to someone? Have you disagreed on a color? Is it mauve or maroon? Coral or salmon? Everyone perceives color differently. When do you stop calling it blue and start calling it purple? Color matching is the solution to these problems. We’ve talked about color modes in the past, but let’s briefly talk about color application.

Spot Color – Ink is mixed into a specific color then printed. Matching the color exactly via screenprint or lithography (plate printing) is almost always more expensive because it requires custom screens or plates and mixing custom inks. You’ll run into higher minimum quantities and have a plate/screen fee. However, it can be cost effective if your order is large enough.

Process Color– Multiple colors, usually Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMYK), are processed together to achieve a color. Digital printing utilizes process color. Color matching limitations exist because not all colors can be achieved with process color. Because of its adaptability and not requiring screens or plates, digital printing is cheaper, and order minimums are usually lower.

Regardless of the application, to accurately color match you’ll need to provide the printing company with a physical sample. Whether that’s a paper proof you printed at home or a throw pillow from your couch, the item must exist in the real world to be matched to.[separator top=”10″ style=”none”]

What about Pantone®?

Pantone® is 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.[separator top=”20″ style=”none”]

The Pros and Cons of “Straight Output”

If you don’t designate a Pantone® number or provide a sample to be matched to, your project will most likely be produced by “straight output.” Digitally printed projects are sent directly to the printer without being color matched. If it’s screen or plate printed, you’ll receive whatever their stock, premixed colors are. Color matching takes time and uses material/ink. The costs of color matching are passed onto the customer. If your project isn’t color critical, you’ll save money and time by letting the printer use their experience and skill to produce your project.

Every project is unique, so if you’re concerned about color or if your project should be screen or digitally printed, contact us. We’re more than happy to show you our true colors.

TKO Tech Talk is a column written by Eric Benge, who has over 10 years experience in the design and print industries. Technology changes rapidly, the advice or information included in these articles is considered accurate and helpful as of the date they are posted online. If you have any questions, technology related or otherwise, please contact us.