Designing for Color, Decoded
By Lisa Gullette, CreatiVisibility, November 2008
Is Web-Safe Color Obsolete?
“The need for using
Web-safe only colors is predicated on the assumption that enough of your intended audience is still using color displays that can only view 256 colors.”
“Year by year, such displays are fading from existence. Further, with Internet communication speed faster than ever due to the widespread use of cable modems and T1 lines, the limiting of color content for faster download is also diminished.”
– From Pantone.com
In 1922, the first color feature film came barreling out of Hollywood in dazzling Technicolor and the world has been a little more vibrant ever since. And even though you might not be aiming for the Hollywood Hills, perfecting a promotional piece, envisioning a new company logo or choosing a photo for your home page is only half the battle in your marketing tactics. The other half is making sure these pieces look great and that includes accurate color selection. Getting those colors to work for you takes a little know-how but in the end, you’ll have the whole spectrum of the rainbow at your disposal.
There are three color-related acronyms used in publishing that may seem confusing at first but are actually processes that ultimately help simplify and standardize color print options:
- CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (black). It’s also referred to as a “4-color process”. CMYK is used in full-color print work done on an offset press (see CreatiVisibility article on offset printing vs. quick print) where printing plates are made from color “separations” in the layout file. The final step before packaging the layout for the pressman is a review of your color separations to make sure there are only four. Your computer automatically converts documents to CMYK for printing on your inkjet or laser printer but you will find that the colors are less vibrant than depicted on your screen. Likewise, there are certain deep blues and rich reds that are outside the “gamut” or range of CMYK inks and therefore just cannot be reproduced on paper.
- RGB is the myriad of color combinations that red, green and blue (hence, “RGB”) make to depict all the colors viewable on a television screen, computer monitor, hand-held device or digital camera screen. These often appear as brighter colors on screen than in print. Disk art, images from a scanner and digital photo output all appear in RGB.
- PMS is the Pantone Matching System, a standard language developed by Pantone, Inc., for universal color identification. This system includes thousands of different color “swatches” assigned a Pantone number (or “PMS number”). The idea behind PMS is to allow designers to “color match” specific colors when a design enters production stage - regardless of the equipment used to produce the color. If you tell a printer you want “pink 1767C” they’re sure to know exactly what color you mean. This system has been widely adopted by graphic designers and reproduction and printing houses since the late 1960s.
By understanding the limitation of screen and print proofing you will get the colors you want but there are many facets to consider. Images placed in a layout will look very different on a computer screen then they do when printed out. Color can vary from computer screen to computer screen. Moreover, images will look different printed on your desktop printer, or quick-copy shop versus a commercial offset print company. Printed ink is somewhat transparent and is changed by the color of the paper, the density of the ink and other slight nuances from the start to the end of a print run, so this means that there will be color differences depending on the paper texture and whether or not it is coated.
All of these factors can result in your printed piece being completely different from the original design. Even though designing and printing a marketing piece in-house using desktop publishing programs is a viable option, spending money on personnel time and print supplies only to get a disappointing final piece can ultimately hurt your bottom line.
The only way to ensure your colors and files are accurately designated with the correct color coding and that your final product is exactly what you expect is to hire a professional graphic design firm, such as CreatiVisibility. CreatiVisibility designers will correctly convert images to CMYK using design software, correctly designate the PMS colors in the publication layout file and will select the output color profile. Along with additional methods for providing correct color proofs such as using monitor calibration devises and providing current color swatch books during the review process, you can be sure that your high-end print pieces will be brilliant and eye-catching, a true Technicolor dream.
For more information about CreatiVisibility and how it can help you efficiently and correctly design and procure your printed marketing pieces, visit: www.CreatiVisibility.com.