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From screen to paper: understanding colour shifts in print

18 Jun, 2024

At Rawson Print & Packaging we look at printing through rose-coloured glasses: we love to produce high-quality results and guarantee colour accuracy for print marketing materials on every job.

But without strong colour management processes, that rose colour could end up red, purple or orange—and ruin your job in the process.

Colour accuracy for print marketing materials

Colour is a key visual cue for a brand and how its customers identify it. Many brands and businesses stake a big part of their reputations on how their products and materials look, including logos, packaging and printed marketing materials.

So for a supplier like us that specialises in commercial digital printing and offset printing, B2B printing colour consistency is important because getting it wrong can mean customer dissatisfaction, costly reprinting, wastage of inks, paper stock and energy, time delays, and reputational damage.

Understanding colour for print vs digital B2B materials

Believe it or not, when it comes to printing not all colours are created equally.

Have you ever found that the digital artwork you’ve looked at on your computer screen hasn’t matched the hard copies your print supplier has delivered? 

Colours that might pop on screen can appear dull or completely different when they’re printed, and can vary from one printing surface to another.

Understanding colour for print vs digital B2B materials goes a long way to making sure what you design on screen is what you get off the printing press.

Colour accuracy is impacted by a bunch of factors including:

  • the colour profiles and settings used in the design software while creating digital artwork (i.e. RGB, CMYK or PMS)
  • viewing designs and proofs on screen or in hard copy
  • whether we use digital or offset printing
  • the printing surface or paper stock we choose (e.g. gloss, matt, recycled, fabric, varying paper colours)
  • the viewing environment (e.g. in bright or poor light)
  • the type of ink or toner we’re using (e.g. UV, metallic and vegetable-based)
  • whether we add other finishes (e.g. lamination, coatings, embossing and foils)
  • the settings and quality of the individual printer we’re using.

RGB vs CMYK vs Pantone

A common colour issue we experience is that the colour settings on a client’s artwork are set to RGB, when we need to print in CMYK or Pantone. But what do we mean by this? 

RGB colour

RGB (Red, Green and Blue) is used for digital representations of colour, such as on our phone, TV and computer screens. It’s also the default colour setting for most design software used to create the artwork we print from.

RGB is created by shining light through a combination of red, green and blue. The more light that’s added (e.g turning up the brightness of your device screen), the brighter and more vibrant the colours look; remove the light (turning down screen brightness) and you’ll get black. 

With RGB, you can create more than 16 million colours. The problem? Not all of these can be printed!

CMYK colour

CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key or black) is the printing industry standard, and is also known as “four-colour” or “full-colour” printing. Like RGB, combinations of base colours are mixed to create more colours, but the range is limited to thousands, rather than millions.

With CMYK we start with a printing surface such as a piece of white paper (which doesn’t emit light) and add inks, which make the end result darker and sometimes less vibrant than RGB options, especially for reds, greens and purples. It’s also sometimes harder to replicate the exact CMYK combination between print runs, so while you might order a reprint of the same job at a later date, slight variations in colour can occur.

Pantone (PMS) colour

The third common colour model is the internationally recognised Pantone Matching System (PMS). PMS colours are a set of a couple thousand standardised, pre-mixed inks that do a great job of ensuring colour consistency between print runs—but can still be affected by the printing surface/material. 

PMS colours are particularly popular for printing promotional products and textiles, but are also used for offset printing. PMS inks are also more costly than CMYK because offset printing involves creating plates that the inks are applied to—which is great for larger print runs, but less economical for smaller runs.

Optimising designs for print

When you create artwork for print, it’s important that you set up the colour settings to CMYK or PMS before sending it to us. This will help reduce the nasty surprises when we send back your proof (or worse, your finished job!). We’re very happy to work with you to try to colour match as closely as possible your preferred RGB colours—but keep in mind that it’s not possible to replicate every colour with 100% accuracy. 

The role of colour management in B2B printing colour consistency

There’s a lot of science to how colours are created. But there’s also a lot of technology and professional expertise that goes into the process too.

At Rawson we take a number steps to reduce the risk of colour errors, including:

  • regularly testing our printing equipment against industry colour standards
  • regular equipment maintenance
  • spot-checks of print jobs as they pass through our presses
  • storing our inks properly to minimise potential environmental impacts (such as exposure to light, air, heat and moisture)
  • using a state-of-the-art spectrophotometer, which measures the intensity of light passing through a surface (such as a printed substrate) to help ensure colour accuracy
  • working closely with our clients and their designers to test, proof and resolve any issues that arise before we click the print button.

These steps also help us maintain our ISO 12647 certification, an internationally recognised standard focused specifically on colour management in printing.

We hope we’ve helped to “colour” your perceptions of what it takes to maintain colour accuracy in printing!

Get in touch if you’d like to discuss how we can deliver great colour results for your next printing or packaging job.

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