The Magic Behind the Color Curtain

Suppose you want great color, your selection of a printing partner matters. Whether you are looking for color that is soft and subtle or that pops off the page, it doesn’t happen by accident. Behind that color is a highly technical process, and the ability to manage that process is a differentiator from one printer to another.

Here are some of the factors in great color that many clients never see.

File set-up: Different types of images (GIF, PNG, JPG, TIFF) handle color differently, so it’s important to get them right. There are also multiple types of PDFs, such as PDF/X1-1 and PDF/4, each with different capabilities related to color.

Printing specification: Printers use a wide variety of industry-standard specifications, each of which has an impact on color, as well. These specs include (but are not limited to):

   SNAP: Designed for newsprint-grade media.
   SWOP: Designed for standard commercial offset printing. SWOP has multiple sub-categories to reflect the stock on which the job is printed.
   GRACOL: Developed for high-quality reproduction. It, too, has multiple sub-categories that reflect the type of stock.
   ISO: An earlier standard still in use today. It, too, is broken down into sub-categories, including ISO coated, ISO uncoated, and ISO newspaper.

Outside America, you have FOGRA 39 (coated stock), FOGRA 48 (newsprint), FOGRA 50 (gloss laminated), and in Australia, 3DAP (3 paper types). In Japan, you have Japan Color (4 paper types).

All of these standards give you different looks. It is the job of the printer to match the targets to each one.

Evaluation: How does the printer know that its presses hit the spec you are after? We print a color bar on the output, then measure the patches with a spectrophotometer. This includes gray balance, density, L*a*b* value, and more.

Lighting: How color is seen by the eye is influenced by the type of light under which it’s viewed. The appearance of color is impacted by factors such as:

  • Type of lamps used.
  • Color of the light (incandescent, fluorescent, LEDs).
  • Impact of metamerism (color looks different under different light conditions).
  • Any optical brighteners in the ink or substrate can react under fluorescent light and create a color shift.

All of this is goes to say why you should not trust your color to just anyone. The methods, standards, and press practices we use is the “secret sauce” that makes our production unique to us. It is a process that you can trust!

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