How to match a colour in print

How to match a colour in print

Matching colours in print with what you have designed on your screen is not always straightforward.

How come the colour on your screen is not necessarily the colour recreated in your printed material? We explain how to improve your colour matching, thereby saving delays on proofing and printing iterations.

There are many variables that play a role in the colour variation from screen to print. Let’s start with the colour on your computer screen. Every screen is calibrated differently, so you will see slight colour variances across different screens. Your computer screen is made up of lights and produces colour in RGB colour space – where red, green and blue are added together to produce colour.

Conversely, colour printing is defined by the four inks used in colour printing – cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black). CMYK is the colour space used for commercial printing and most colour printers. In the process of colour conversion the colour prints differently.

Printer set up is another variable, in that the same screen colour can produce different colour output depending on the printer used. Colour can also alter from previous print jobs slightly due to different batches of paper stock, humidity and temperature at the time of print, with a tendency for oranges, blues, greens and browns to shift the most. Colour variation is inherent in the printing process.


How do designers overcome these colour variances?

Designers use the Pantone Matching System (PMS). Pantone is the worldwide standard language for colour communication from designer to manufacturer to retailer to customer.  With so much variation in colour using CMYK, Pantone set out to create a system that allowed for colour consistency. In 2001 Pantone began providing translations of their existing system with screen-based colours using RGB colour space. By standardizing colours, different manufacturers in different locations can all refer to the Pantone system to make sure colours match.

In this manner, a designer can create a logo that will print consistently from one job to the next job and on an array of printers.   PMS streamlines the process of printing when exact Pantone colour ink is added to the printer. Pantone inks are spot colours and, like house paints, they are premixed batches of colour types, so the colour on your printed material is matched.


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Getting your colours right

Getting your colours right can make all the difference to your printed material. The moral of the story is that the colours displayed on your screen are not consistent. You can view the same file on two different computers and see two different colours. Print these on two different printers and you have two more different colours. So how can you get it right, and minimise the risk and time delays associated with colour iterations?

  • Most printers and graphic designers have a Pantone Colour Bridge swatch book that you can reference to get close to your desired colour. If you have a colour that you absolutely must match – think Cadbury purple – then you will need to use a Pantone.
  • Print in Pantone colour ink, hugely reducing the colour shift from screen to print.
  • Take advice from your printer on paper stock, considering what has been used in the past.
  • Request a printer’s proof before committing to printing your entire job.