I had lunch today with a print rep who told me a sad story about a designer whose release file contained the wrong ink color name. Nobody caught the error until the designer’s client received the printed job and was unhappy that the color wasn’t the corporate color she had specified.

Sometimes during the design review/approval process, designers have to alter one or more colors in their files so that the mock-ups will print out on the laser printer close to the colors they have in mind. (The laser printer may render the correct PMSs horribly off!) This may be what happened to the designer in this cautionary tale.

It used to be standard practice to print separations for files before releasing them to be sure that all the colors were assigned properly and no sneaky colors had made themselves too at home in the file. For some reason, many production artists don’t print separations anymore, but there’s a great paper-free shortcut available in Adobe Acrobat Professional.

Make a PDF of the final file, then open the PDF in Acrobat and select “Print Production” => “Ink Manager” from the Advanced menu:


A window will appear that shows the ink colors in the files, like this: 



In this example, a page from my portfolio, the file is set up in CMYK and there are no extra colors. 

See? Easy! I use this trick when reviewing a PDF as I write print specifications. If I spot an extra or odd color, I can flag it for the designer or production artist. I watch particularly for two colors that look very similar on screen, as one of them is usually a culprit.

Disaster avoidance tip

Using Acrobat’s Ink Manager is an easy way to check ink color accuracy before the files are released to the printer. Also be sure to provide a specification sheet that lists the ink colors, as this gives the printer’s prepress department one more tool for cross-checking the ink colors and questioning them if what’s in the file and the documentation don’t match.