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Print buyers, graphic designers and printing companies alike all want and expect accurate color reproduction of their printing projects. Achieving predictable color results, however, first requires a basic understanding of the fundamentals that effect color in the commercial printing industry. There are three primary concepts to learn and apply that greatly affect the final color outcome in commercial printing: your computer monitor, your design color space, and the proper use of the different types of printing inks.
Nearly all printing in modern times starts on a computer monitor:
1) The graphic design was created on one, and
2) The final artwork is typically viewed and approved on a computer monitor.
The question is, how accurately is it displaying the colors in the first place?
Nearly everyone has noticed when shopping for a TV that there are often huge differences in the color displayed from one set to another. In like manor, monitor color will vary substantially from one model to the next. Although a quality monitor is certainly important, any monitor can be calibrated for improved accuracy.
» » Read more about Monitor Calibration
Professional design programs have different setup options for color depending on what the design will be used for: commercial printing or just for screen-display (web and email design). When you first create a document that will be printed, make sure that you choose the CMYK Color Space.
Even the human eye can't perceive all of the colors of the entire spectrum of light. Similarly, no device, from your monitor or scanner to a printing press, is capable of reproducing the full range of colors visible to the human eye. Known as a Color Space, each device operates within a specific range (gamut) of colors that it is able to reproduce. Colors a device cannot reproduce are said to be out of gamut.
Why is this important in commercial printing?
Because a monitor displays color using light (using the RGB color space), it is able to display a vast number of colors that are not possible to reproduce on a printing press (using CMYK and Pantone color spaces). Especially absent are many of the most bright and vibrant colors, which simply cannot be replicated with standard CMYK inks.
» » Read more about Color Gamma
Some printing processes require the use of specific types of inks that may limit your color choices for a particular design project. There are two types of ink colors used in commercial printing: process color inks (CMYK) and solid “spot” colored inks. If you are printing a 1 or 2-color project you need to choose Pantone solid colors. If your design will print in full color (such as color photos or illustrations) you will need to choose CMYK inks.
» » Read more about ink colors