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The (really) Basics of Ink Colors – Part two

In Part one of this series we reviewed some basics on color, and some tips on choosing your colors. In this second part we will cover the first step in working with your digital files on your computer – the RGB color space.

Here is an example of a typical color RGB color issue. At some point you may have created a design, a logo or perhaps adjusted a photo on your computer screen to produce some really, bright, vibrant, saturated color. Happy with what you had seen on screen and ready for print, you send your file off to be printed and wait for your proof or sample. Sadly, what you receive is not as bright, colorful and saturated as what you had created on screen, what happened?! The answer lies in the beginning, with the RGB color space and your monitor.

What is Color?

What we see as color is the wavelength of light being received by our eyes, whether it is light reflected off an object or emitted by a source such as a light bulb or a computer screen. Red, green and blue (RGB) are the additive primary colors of the color spectrum. Combining balanced amounts of red, green and blue lights produces pure white. By varying the amount of red, green and blue light, all of the colors in the visible spectrum can be produced. Your monitor screen can produce millions of these color combinations, but still not able to reproduce all the visible colors. And depending on your monitor, the colors may not be displayed accurately. This is hurdle ‘one’ and can be addressed by buying a good quality monitor with even brightness across the entire screen area, and with the purchase of a calibration device to ‘profile’ or map out the color reproduction capabilities of your monitor. These devices were once fairly expensive but have come down considerably in price and can now be used to profile many different types of displays such as LCD, LED and projectors – even your HDTV in some cases. PANTONE’s ColorMunki (www.pantone.com) is a very capable entry-level device for calibrating your displays and is available for around $170.00. Keeping your monitor color stable and consistent will go a long way towards improving your output when it comes time to move beyond the screen.

RGB CMYK

Why is my sky purple?

Now that you have calibrated your monitor and mapped its colorspace, you opened up a picture of your dog catching a Frisbee in the park, intending to adjust the color and remove a trash can in the background. Perhaps you made the sky a bright, bright blue, the grass a vibrant green, and the Frisbee a bright orange. Working in RGB color, this photo leaps off your screen which will make it the perfect cover photo for your brochure. You package up your files, upload them to your print service provider and await your proof. When your proof arrives, all those bright color are shadows of their former selves – and no, your printer did not make a mistake. In order to print your image in process color, your image was converted at some point in the workflow to CMYK color space, which is quite a bit smaller than the RGB color space. In doing so, colors that are outside the CMYK range (or gamut) are pulled back down into the printable range, which makes them appear duller and flatter. To avoid surprises in your output, many applications support color profiles and allow you to use your calibration profile to simulate your final output color on screen through ICC color profile conversions. Adobe Systems Inc. provides excellent tools for color management within their design programs, so please visit their site at www.adobe.com to learn more about them.

More Pantone Goodies

If you are serious about color, a great investment for your color toolbox is a set of Pantone color guides. The color scientist’s at Pantone have created color swatches of each single spot color ink, and swatches of those colors converted to CMYK process color simulations, and shown on both coated and uncoated papers. These printed swatches and the paper they are printed on follow a strict set of guidelines for color reproduction, and while you may not be using the exact same papers and inks, will give you an excellent idea of how your color will reproduce. In addition to the visual references, Pantone is including a nice little software app, the Pantone Color Manager, that is web-capable and can update itself with the latest definitions automatically. The app also includes conversions for RGB and HTML, so that you can use the correct color definitions across your web pages, tablets and mobile apps. For more about Pantone color tools, visit them at www.pantone.com.

Talk to us about your color

When you are ready to start managing your color to a finer degree, give us a call or talk to your consultant. We can provide you with expert advice on your color management and recommend the right tools to make it work for you. We can also provide our print profiles to you to install in your color management system for more accurate proofing and color conversion.