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taking stock of color

tips & tutorials + Fri, 14 Jul 2017 15:18:58 -0400

the 5th color

Some years back, I encountered an article that described paper as the "5th color" for print—in addition to C, M, Y, K—& I have yet to see a more apt description. When designing logos, collateral & other printed materials, our digital displays reflect layouts & images similar to how they will appear on white stock. But which white? What happens when the selected stock is not white at all? Paper color is an issue oft overlooked until a final product comes back with unanticipated results.


As with paints for your home, "white" runs a spectrum when it comes to printing stock. "White" stock can range from bright-seemingly-pure-white, to blue whites, ivory & natural whites, pale grey-whites, or may even have a soft, rosy hue. All are still referred to as "white," whether or not an additional descriptor is included. Whichever stock you select will show in areas without ink coverage, in addition to showing through in areas with lighter colors or less coverage. The stock you choose will affect areas with darker colors & heavier coverage as well, although it may not be as readily apparent on first glance.

what about spot colors?

Spot colors, such as Pantone matched colors, are recommended for achieving the highest degree of color accuracy; however, even spot colors are not exempt from the effects of the underlying paper stock.

can you use white ink?

Yes. There is white ink. However, whether printed offset or digitally, opaque white is a particle-heavy spot color that must be applied separately from your process colors (C,M,Y,K). Currently, most digital presses do not support white toner, & white ink for use on offset presses is known for issues with inconsistency. With either, achieving consistency in coverage is difficult, & if you are depending on white ink to print smaller text, or to lay down an undercoat prior to printing color over it; you are most likely setting yourself up for disappointment when it comes to cost, quality, or both (the exception being screen-printing). They are best suited for use as embellishments, not for integral design foundation. White foils for stamping are a possibility; however, costs for the metal die(s) required for stamping must be considered. With any of these options, you may also need to consider increased setup & spoilage (waste) costs, & costs for protective coating if required to preserve inks that are printed over the applied white.

so what can i do?

  1. Consider your design carefully before selecting a stock. Do logos or other trademarks involve or require white? Are there photos with people flashing smiles; people or animals with light to medium skin, hair, or fur; cars or houses with light or white paint jobs? The stock you choose will be the "white" point in your finished product.  Again, darker tones will be affected as well, even if not immediately apparent.
  2. Ask for a hard proof before the press run. This will provide you with an accurate depiction for your final product.
  3. If you have a flatbed scanner & Adobe PhotoShop (or a similar program); scan your intended stock sample & add it in a layer over a .JPG or .TIF file exported from your original design file. Under transparency settings for the layer containing your scanned stock sample, select "Multiply." This will NOT be 100% accurate, but it will provide an adequate representation & help you identify potential issues. (The image above utilizes this technique, with multiple stock swatches.)
  4. Need help? Just ask! We are happy to make recommendations. We have a vast stock sample library & you are always welcome to take a look. We can also provide information on specialty options such as foil stamping—if that is the route you choose to go—or recommend alternatives that will yield good results for your design.

— jm

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