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The Truth About Colour

Posted by David West on


Have you ever designed something in Photoshop or chosen that perfect Pantone colour and had your artwork printed but the colours just didn’t turn out they way you wanted?

My name is Dave and welcome to ‘Design to Print 101’.

Choosing the right colours can be the easiest and the hardest thing in the world to do. It all comes down to what program you prepare your artwork in, what colour make up you choose and what type of printing process is used.

Let’s start with CMYK. What does it stand for and how does it work?

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. The black is represented by a K because the black is the Key colour. It is what gives an image depth and contrast.

Colour is made up of four dots that use CMYK to form a rosette pattern. The CMYK colours overlap eachother in different ways to produce different colours. This is called the ‘four colour process’.

CMYK is the colour mode used by offset and digital printers.

You may have also heard the term Pantone or PMS colour. Also known as a spot colour. PMS stands for Pantone Matching System. This means that the colour you pick is the colour you get… theory.

The reason I say ‘in theory’ is because like CMYK, most colours still need to be mixed to achieve the colour you are looking for. Not to mention that if you find the perfect PMS colour from a PC, the colour you are looking at on your screen will most definitely be different to the actual PMS colour on the swatch. This is because your screen will use RGB to reproduce that PMS colour, so its always best when choosing a PMS colour to look at a physical sample from a swatch.

Why do companies use PMS colours if they still need to be mixed? The simple answer for that is, a PMS colour is a lot like a recipe. It comes with ingredients and instructions so no matter who’s offset printing the colour it will almost always be the same result.

The next most known colour make up is RGB which stands for Red Green & Blue.

RGB has a bigger colour gamma or colour range than CMYK that enables you to get richer brighter colours and darker blacks. RGB is not used is common offset and digital printers.

So that begs the question. How do I know what colours to use?

The answer for that is simply ask yourself what is my intention for this design?

If you are designing something for the web such as an email invitation, website design or images for facebook, RGB are the colours you want to use.

If you are designing something for business cards, posters, flyers anything that must be printed, CMYK is the way to go. If your artwork is being printed digitally, always avoid colours like, deep blues, deep purples (pardon the music pun), deeps browns and bright oranges.

Digital machines are getting increasingly accurate but those colours are so heavy, they can easily turn out wrong.

But remember, if you are designing anything in Adobe Photoshop make sure you change the colour mode from RGB to CMYK and the most important thing people forget is that Photoshop is automatically set at 72dpi ready for web content. You must change the resolution before you start your project to a minimum of 300dpi. Simply increasing your canvas or image size after you are finished, will not make your project sharper. It simply makes the pixels bigger.

I hope you have learned a little something about colours and it helps you with your next project to ensure you get the result you are looking for.

I’m Dave from Digital Printworks and this has been ‘Design to Print 101’.

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