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How important is colour matching? ...

23rd May, 2018 by Geoff

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I’ve just visited one of our printers to watch a 'print pass and sign off' after a few press adjustments to the main colour.
These days judging colour is about the law of averages. What I mean by that is all the colour references I have taken with me look quite different even though they are supposed to be the same colour. The Pantone colour system has done much to help standardise and match colour in the last fifty years or so, but now, with so many printing variables it’s not easy. In fact it's impossible to match colours across a range of printed and digital items which are intrinsically different.

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Before we all got used to the fast turnaround of printed material, the process used to include a ‘wet’ proof i.e. a ‘pull’ of the printing plates on a flat bed press. Proofing then developed a faster process, like the Cromalin print. This is a proof that looks good, but was the beginning of the death of accurate colour matching for print. The image is printed onto a glossy substrate, which is sort of okay if the final print is onto coated paper, but if onto a matt or uncoated paper, then the Cromalin colours won’t match.
Today, the same image reproduction can quite easily be required in an on-screen digital format as well as printing, which in itself can be onto paper or plastic type surfaces achieved by inkjets using liquid toners, copiers using powders, hi-end digital printers use electroInk and lithography, gravure, letterpress and screen print using different types of ink formulations, making it even more difficult to create exact colour matches without a lot of additional work and cost.

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The advent of the digital pdf colour proof, which is now universally used for speed and economy, can only be effectively used to ensure the content is all correct. A digital proof viewed on one computer screen, will look different on another, depending on each of our personal screen preferences. In addition, the transparent colour images coming out of our screens are made up of red, green and blue dots, quite different to the colour reflected off a printed page that has been created using cyan, magenta, yellow and black.
If one really needs to match all colour accurately then of course it can be achieved, but creating the right conditions to achieve this is both costly and very time consuming. Time and big budgets, which none of us have!

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