DSCF0420If you feel intimidated or unsure when you review color image proofs, you’re not alone.

Many designers fear that they will have to give the color operator or print rep technical correction instructions like, “Take the magenta down 3 points overall.”

Even if you are confident that your technical instructions would be correct, there’s a good reason not to give them: If you tell a color specialist exactly what to do, he or she may do only that. There’s also more than one way to get to the intended result, and your instructions may cause unintended shifts to other areas of the image that an alternate approach would not.

So be articulate, but not a know-it-all. Your real job here is job is to describe—in garden-variety English—what you are seeing on the proof  and what you want to be seeing. This helps the color specialist focus on the results you want. Leave it to him or her to determine the best way to achieve those results.

Do say this

Note this pattern in the examples below: “I see this. I want to see that.” Be sure to specify whether the comment refers to one section of the image or the image overall:

  • This face looks too grey. I’d like it to look pinker.
  • The Asian man’s face has an orange cast. It needs to look more pink, with an olive undertone.
  • Detail is disappearing in the shadows. Capture more detail.
  • There is less contrast than I want overall. Increase the contrast.
  • Left arm looks fuzzy. Can it be sharpened?
  • There’s a funny halo around this building. Eliminate halo.
  • That man’s eye bags look really dark. Subdue them.
  • The image looks light. I would like it to be more bright and saturated overall.
  • Image looks flat overall. I’d like to see more shape.
  • Neutrals have a blue cast in this corner. I’d like them to look more neutral.
  • Lawn in the foreground has a blue cast. I’d like it to be more of a bright kelly green.
  • This image looks dull overall. I would like it to pop more. (Yes, this is a very common instruction!)

Don’t say that

canstockphoto2078056It’s true that these comments are subjective, but they are also descriptive. Do be mindful of what you say and how you say it, though. I once said I wanted a red to look “more brick,” and didn’t live it down until the guys had razzed me mercilessly. “Would that be new brick or antique? Sandstone or clinker? Haw haw haw!”

If you have a specific color in mind to be matched, provide a visual example. A brick is too awkward to carry, so bring a Pantone chip or laser print instead.

Beware of thinking in color wheel terms and calling images “too cool” or “too warm.”  In the color correcting world, a cool image is too cyan, not too green or blue-green. A warm image is too yellow, not too red-orange or red. It follows that to “warm up” an image means to add yellow; to “cool down” an image means to add cyan.

Designers sometimes inadvertently give conflicting instructions: “Increase contrast and saturation overall.” When contrast is increased, detail in shadow areas can be lost and saturation in the highlights decreases. When saturation is increased, contrast decreases. What do you want most?

Shift Your Focus and take one more look

dirty-nailsIt’s important to step back and shift your perception, then look at the proofs one more time.

One trick is to squint through your eyelashes to focus on light and dark values. (Strong highlights will look more dominant on press than they appear on the proof.)

Finally, look closely at every square inch of the image again, not just at the focal point. This is when you’ll notice the image disasters that tend to slip by.

Here are just a few of the slipp-ees designers and I have caught in the past—and some we haven’t. These things are easy to miss when you’re reviewing. But if you do miss something, believe me, it’s the only thing you’ll see on the printed product!

  • Grimy fingernails on the cover image above
  • A tree looks like it’s growing out of the top of the model’s head
  • A reflection from a light switch is the brightest thing on the page
  • The backwards-reading number 47 on a football jersey in a flopped image
  • A competitor’s logo on the laptop everyone is gathered around
  • A way-happy trouser bulge and shadow in a men’s suits postcard
  • “NORDSTOM” (with just one R) knocked out of the photo on a full-page newspaper ad
  • The nude girlie calendar on the dorm room wall right behind the wholesome Catholic college freshman (This one was caught by the pre-press specialist!)

Granted, many of these problems should have been eliminated by the stylist or art director at the photoshoot. But if they weren’t, your eagle eye provides the last chance for a fix.

If you’re a PhotoShop pro

If you are an advanced PhotoShop user who makes many adjustments to image files, be sure to give the vendor both your corrected file and your original file. And leave CMYK conversion to the pre-press operator to do as the last step. Corrected or converted files that have been opened and closed several times can lose significant amounts of the data the operator will need in order to do any further rounds of adjustments to the images.

Disaster Avoidance Tip

Whenever possible, discuss your color comments with the vendor in person. An experienced rep will listen to your comments, point out things you may have missed seeing, mark up the proofs as you talk, and then take them back to the plant and go over the instructions with the color operator.

I avoid skipping this step unless I know the vendor very well and am sure that their color operator will interpret my comments accurately. Otherwise, I’m likely to have to order an extra round of proofs and spend more money to get the color right.

© 2010 Nani Paape