Simon McArdle

Color Profiles & Printing – Explained

Whether you are printing a single logo or a full promotional brochure, you want your marketing products to look sharp. Given this, it is important to understand the science behind color creation and printing techniques, so you can make educated decisions about how to produce the best images for every project.

Color Profiles & Printing Explained – Infographic

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Color Profiles & Printing   Explained

Understanding Color Profiles

To keep your logo and other imagery looking bright and vivid, there are three basic color profiles with which you should become familiarized. What works for your web page will not necessarily work for printed postcards. Choosing the right color profile is the essential first step in creating a beautiful image.

The CMYK Color Profile

CMYK is used for printing and features four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. If you have ever replaced the ink in a standard printer, you are probably somewhat familiar with the CMYK color profile already. You can create a stunning array of different hues with these four distinct inks. Together, they create a deep, rich black.

CMYK is the profile used for virtually any printed product, from posters to business cards. However, there are several techniques for printing with CMYK colors, as you will see above.

The RGB Color Profile

If you are creating images for use on a lit screen, you will use the RGB color profile. This uses red, green, and blue to create various colors. Digital screens — like those utilized by computers, tablets, and televisions — use these three colors in various combinations to create all the breathtaking pictures you have seen on TV or the Internet. Mixed together, these three basic colors create pure, bright white.

If you are designing an app, website, digital magazine, or television commercial, you must use an RGB color profile. This ensures that the image looks exactly how you want it to. Using a CMYK image on a digital screen could give you some unexpected results that make your logo seem a bit off.

Pantone Colors

The Pantone Matching System is a type of color profile that you can use to match colors perfectly. Pantone color matching only works with spot printing for printed materials, so you cannot use an exact Pantone color for digital projects. However, specifying a Pantone color for a logo or other familiar image that you will use often can help you ensure consistency in large and important print runs.

Pantone is not the only spot color system available. You can also work with TOYO, ANPA, DIC, or several others. However, Pantone is the industry standard in most markets. The Pantone Corporation introduced the Pantone Matching System in 1963, and it has been a frontrunner for color matching ever since.

Choosing a Printing Method

Designing your logo is only the first step in creating a stunning product if you are working with printed pieces and not digital images. Your choice of printing method will decide what the finished results look like. You have three basic options to consider. In the infographic above, you will see a sample of how these options use various types of ink to bring your image together.

Spot Color Printing (Offset)

If your logo features just one or two colors and you have a big printing job, spot color printing will give you the best results. This process uses Pantone colors, so each shade will match your specifications exactly. Your Pantone inks are carefully mixed according to the specifications provided with the Pantone Matching System. Using 14 basic colors, your printer will mix the Pantone color carefully.

This ink is then applied to custom printing plates to produce your finished product. This detailed process gives you the best color accuracy and sharpest images. However, spot color printing is not a good option for complex projects that may use dozens or even hundreds of different shades to produce a detailed image.

If you are printing business cards, stationary, or another simple product with a logo in just a few precise colors, spot color printing is for you.

Four Color Process Printing (Offset)

Four color printing uses CMYK colors to produce your logo or other image. These four colors are layered on top of one another to produce your finished image. Four color printing uses an offset printing method similar to that of spot color printing. The printer creates individual plates for the four colors. These custom plates will improve the accuracy of the finished product.

With four color process printing, you will get sharp, accurate images on every pass. If you are printing images with several colors and you are ordering products in significant quantities, four color process printing will help you get the results you want.

Digital Printing

If you have a digital printer, you have probably seen digital printing in action in your own home. Digital printing uses toner or ink-jet technology to create images using CMYK color. In the past, digital printing was a poor alternative for professional projects because the quality was so low. Thanks to regular developments in printing technology, you can now expect impressive results with digital printing.

Digital printing will not produce the same quality as offset printing with spot color or four color options. However, digital printing eliminates the need for custom printing plates, which are quite expensive. If you are printing a small run, such a dozen brochures or just one or two posters, the most cost-effective choice is digital printing.

You should work with a professional printer, even if you choose digital printing for a professional project. While you may have a digital printer in the office, most companies are not equipped with the same technology a professional printer will have.

Armed with an understanding of how color profiles work, you can always choose the correct option for your digital or print projects. While you can match RGB and CMYK colors fairly closely, you should specify which you are working with to get images that will show up correctly in finished form. When it is time to print your project, consider exactly what you are printing and the size of the print run to determine the best and most cost-effective option for your finished project. Check out the infographic above to see these principles in action.

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