A couple weeks ago it was time to gear up for a recurring print project. Client sends me content (copy & photos) and I get to work. It’s a 2C job (black + spot) web printed on 70% PCW paper. The spot color changes with every issue. This time client suggested “a nice shade of candy apple red.”
No problem! I pulled out my PMS books and made some selections. Then I put together a little color test, with black and reverse type, PMS numbers and sent to client with my recommendation (#206).
“Hmmm…. pretty pinky. I was thinking more like fire engine red or candy apple red.” Client included a link to an exact color: #215.
Fair enough. I revised the color chart recommending this:
I explained that I was viewing actual PMS samples, the difference between RGB and CMYK, paper stock, blah, blah, blah…
My Explanation Fell Short
The client didn’t understand what I was talking about. Now, if you’re a designer, you probably know where this is going. But I’m not writing for you! I’m writing for current and future clients.
Short story, the client had these options:
- verify with the printer (client buys printing direct)
- schedule a visit from me, PMS books in tow (billable time)
- trust me and go with #032.
Client decided to trust me, though still concerned about ‘pinkness’ of the red. (Oy!) So here’s a more thorough explanation…
A Rose Is A Rose…
when you can smell it. Otherwise, the rose is a simulation. Each of the following simulates a rose in a different manner:
- a photo of a rose on a computer is RGB, an additive color space
- a photo of a rose in magazine is CMYK, a subtractive color space
- a crayon drawing on paper is custom or spot color example (also a subtractive color space).
We’re working with a simulation of a rose that will make its way though several iterations. One that will be created on the computer (RGB), proofed on desktop printers (CMYK) and eventually printed with a spot color…on absorbent, buff-colored paper.
Does Your Head Hurt Yet?
Ultimately, the rose experience will be dependent upon just two things: ink and paper:
- not how the rose looks on the designer’s monitor
- not how the rose PDF looks on the client’s (non color-calibrated!) monitor
- And certainly not how the rose PDF looks as printed from a desktop printer!
Only Ink + Paper Matter
And there’s the rub. Because by the time the rose is printed, well…it’s too late to change anything! And this is what concerned my client.
The client had his vision of candy apple red. My understanding of ‘candy apple red’ is:
- highly saturated
- without yellow
- with the slightest hint of blue
But remember, there is no candied apple. Just as there is no rose. We need to simulate the apple (with a touch of fire engine red). And on newsprint, no less! We must remember that:
- there is no luminosity in newsprint. It’s flat, dull and serviceable
- the paper is not white. I repeat, the paper is not white. It is, in fact, yellowish.
In this example, luminosity can be ignored. But that ever-so-slightly-yellow-not-white paper is going to interact with the ink. Ink is transparent. The color of the paper will visually mix with the ink to create an ever-so-slightly ‘yellower’ candied apple.
Color is complicated!
Which is why I suggested #032. Pure red: PANTONE RED 032. Nothin’ else. Candy and fire engine!
Yet #032 doesn’t look like this!
No. It does not.
Professional applications such as Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, etc. provide designers with tools to create art files for web and offset printing. These apps include digital simulations of Pantone swatch colors. However, the designer does not select color from these digital simulations. Rather, we select from PMS swatch guides printed with each individual color of ink. And we make these selections while viewing inks under natural light. The application’s digital swatch is used to build the art file. The file tells the printer—exactly—which color ink to print and where.
Key point about these apps is they require the designer to set up the appropriate color space for the finished project: web=RGB, print=CMYK or spot. In the RGB space, there are roughly 16 million colors from which to choose. Each pixel is lit from within. For print, the selection is not nearly so great! Each dot of ink is a physical mix of compounds, lit by reflection. Therefore, designers select colors from the real-world swatch guides because they are real ink.
Once this selection is made, the designer will build the art file, remembering that…
The File is NOT the Rose
It is a simulation—without scent.
The applications allow me to make the simulation appear more brilliant with ‘preference’ settings. Below is a sample with view set to ‘rich’ black and paper set to ‘white’. Note the greyscale photo on left. It is not affected by paper or black settings.
In the selection below, I’ve reset preferences to display black accurately (for CMYK color space). For demonstration purposes, I’ve also tweaked the ‘paper’ color to look more like newsprint. The settings do not affect photos placed in the file. However, remember the photos will be printed on the ever-so-slightly-yellow-not-white colored paper!
Here is a close-up comparison of monitor rich black vs. plain black.
Though I have this simulation control in native file applications, my clients do not. For most proofing, they see a PDF saved to smallest file size. (This particular document is over 50 MB.) The PDF export skews the simulated colors a bit more. Given that clients review PDFs on various monitors and/or printed from desktop printers, is it any wonder they’re confused by color?
“…that which we call a rose…” smells like INK.
Don’t believe the hocus pocus on your monitor or what comes out of the desktop printer.
Believe your designer. ;-)
Got a question? Fire away by leaving a comment below. Thanks!