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but it looks different on my screen!

tips & tutorials + Fri, 16 Aug 2019 09:30:43 -0400

those dreaded words

In the printing industry, we hear this almost daily. Sometimes multiple times daily! Many of you are guilty of such utterances. It's okay. We forgive you. But let me explain...

It looks different on my screen too, & it always will, & there are many reasons why. But perhaps the biggest reason is—quite simply—that viewing a color representation, or an image, emitted as particles of light from a display is COMPLETELY different than viewing the the same image or color created on an opaque substrate with opaque media. In the example above, a physical swatch for PANTONE 151 U is held next to its representation on screen. My swatch book is new. My monitor is new & calibrated. The orange depicted in my display is at least somewhat close in overall range when compared to its representation on screen; but, they are still very different in appearance. Chances are, an image or color not only looks different on my screen than it does in print; but, the same color or image probably looks different on my screen than it looks on your screen as well. Make, model, age, calibration & any individual settings for your monitor or display all have an effect on the color or image you are viewing.

 

making converts

PANTONE provides conversion values for most formulas (Metallics & Textiles/Plastics have exclusions) to approximate the closest possible appearance in CMYK, RGB, & Hexadecimal values. Adobe Software also includes conversions between the varied color models (or "spaces") as well as color book values. So as long as we follow those, our color should come out perfect. Right?

WRONG, unfortunately! Conversion values—although not without purpose—can add to the confusion as to how color should look. Many do not realize that these values are approximations & not perfect emulations. Roughly 55% of PANTONE colors can be reproduced accurately with CMYK. The colors from minerals & other ingredients used to achieve ink pigments cannot be accurately reproduced across all color models, export profiles or media. Some will have a closer match than others. Some will be completely unattainable. Adding further to the complication, conversion values provided from non-PANTONE resources (including Adobe!) often differ from PANTONE recommended values. Some differ by less than 1%. Other vary greatly. These differences in conversion values result in inconsistent color—completely different color really.

 

but wait, there's more!

Resolution is an issue for both color & image quality. Low print resolution is not always readily apparent on your screen. This is because the actual resolution required to view an image on your display is far lower than the minimum resolution required for decent print. Low resolution in print results in images being blurry, grainy or pixelated & images with compression artifacts. Confusion over resolution settings in software such as PhotoShop has resulted in the belief that one can increase the resolution of their image by plugging higher numbers into the respective fields; however, resolution cannot be artificially increased without loss. Depending on a pixel-based image to depict branding colors will also not yield accurate results for color, even when the image is high quality.

Then there is the issue of difference between color models (e.g. additive, subtractive, spherical, cylindrical...), although CMYK—a subtractive model—is what we utilize for print. Files that incorporate inappropriate color spaces, or multiple color spaces, are frequently submitted. Differences in values left to be interpreted for automatic conversion during export effects final color; sometimes negatively. Other issues & inconsistencies arise from variables such as the application of Screen vs. Opacity for tint control, transparency blend space settings, differences in software, RIP, & press technology that effect color or quality, & on & on... (All topics that easily call for their own articles!) 

 

so what do i do!?

Not all issues can be addressed completely on every project, but here are a few helpful practices:

  1. NEVER TRUST what you see on your screen to represent finished results in print!
  2. Always consult a physical swatch book for spot colors & learn to interpret output for CMYK by sampling & reading your image or design element.
  3. Be mindful of actual vs. effective resolution.
  4. Control color tints by setting the appropriate screen (instead of relying on Opacity) for consistent results—particularly with spot colors.
  5. If you are exporting a press-ready file to submit (as opposed to providing packaged native files—Recommended!), make sure your files are in the correct color space for print (CMYK or Grayscale respectively) & of appropriate resolution. If spot colors (e.g. PANTONE) are desired, be sure to maintain correct designations. Yes, images & elements left in other color spaces will be converted on export or during RIP; but, if you don't do it yourself & review the values, you are leaving print color & quality to chance. Images left in RGB will print quite differently than images converted to CMYK & correctly adjusted for print. Images that look "good" on your screen, but which lack sufficient resolution for print, will also be negatively effected for both color & quality in your finished piece. Spot color elements that have been converted will not separate as spots during export & RIP, or be targetable as spot colors.
  6. Export settings matter. Make sure you have selected an appropriate profile for export based on where & how your job is being printed, & the desired outcome.
  7. Whenever possible, review actual (hardcopy) proofs before committing a job to print.
  8. Remember that paper selection effects color too!

When in doubt, ask for help. Your friendly prepress & printing team are here to ensure that your printed piece looks its best!

— jm

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