Another Printing Disasters—and How to Avoid Them story…

I’ve been observing changes in the the traditional logo design process.

Logos are now being developed for web use first—both as static marks and ones that incorporate motion graphics. Secondarily the logo designs are extended to the print medium and two-dimensional uses.

By reversing the more traditional design process order, this new paradigm presents greater complexity and challenges, including accurate translaton of RGB color to Spot or CMYK inks.

One designer’s color questions: a case study

Jeff Culver, Modulor LLC founder, recently asked my advice on selecting 4-color builds for a new brand he was developing for the Puget Sound Chapter of the American Marketing Association. He also wanted to know whether there was anything he could do to ensure that the brand colors would reproduce consistently across different media and substrates.

First of all, Jeff said, he was really happy with the way the colors looked on screen. That’s not surprising—the RGB color space can represent a far greater percentage of the colors our eyes can perceive than the CMYK color space can. Plus, RGB color always looks more vibrant than CMYK.

He also liked the coated Pantone® chips he’d picked to represent these colors, but was disappointed with the way they looked in ink drawdowns on uncoated papers.

The irony was that for this particular brand, the logo would rarely be printed in spot colors. Usually it would be digitally printed, but he was not pleased with the CMYK digital test prints he had done so far, either.

First we reviewed  the ink formulas for the colors he had selected and decided on alternates that had more a more rich, complex combination of mixing colors in the formulas to give him a more vibrant result. Then I recommended that he create a test document with a grid of different 4-color builds on the page. Jeff had a printer produce a color proof of this document.

Color Builds and Blends Test for PSAMA © 2010 Modulor Assoc. LLC, used by permission.

From this test proof he was able to determine the best 4-color builds to specify as the official brand builds. (I’ve often found that you can find a closer match to the spot than the one Pantone suggests.)

He also included some of the brand graphics on the test. The test results gave him the information he needed for final adjustments and brand color call-outs for RGB, Spot, and CMYK.

Color disaster avoidance tips

Consider Application Up Front
A well-designed brand identity is versatile enough to work well in a variety of applications. However, identifying the predominant uses of the brand will help focus your decisions on type sizes, colors, and level of complexity.

For example, a logo that will be printed often at a small size needs to be simpler. A complex, multi-petaled flower motif will just look like a bug splat at 3/16″ in diameter! Will your logo withstand photocopying? Not if it’s non-repro blue! Can it be embroidered on a fleece jacket? How will it read on a billboard? A web page?

The Color Bridge shows you colors that do—or don't—build well.

Select Only Buildable Colors
I recommend that designers specify only Pantone Matching System spot colors that include the 4-dot mark, Pantone’s indication that the color can be successfully reproduced in 4-color process inks. Refer to a Pantone Color Bridge fan to see PMS colors and builds side-by-side.

Invest in Cool New Tools
Pantone’s new GOE color system offers nearly twice as many spot, CMYK, sRGB and HTML color options as the original Pantone Matching System, arranged much more intuitively.

The newest generation of both of these color tools include RGB and LAB values on every chip, making it easier to align color for web and print applications.

Involve a Printer Before Standards are Nailed Down
A printer can order ink drawdowns for you on both coated and uncoated stock and can run test proofs to check your builds. An experienced prepress department can recommend build adjustments to make your colors read better.

Pick Your Color Hero
When your project calls for printing a variety of printed pieces on different substrates, decide ahead of time which piece would make the best color hero. Then print that piece first and provide each printer with a printed color hero example to match. Often the best candidate is a piece printed on coated stock.

Do you have other suggestions on brand color? If so please add to the conversation by leaving a comment. Thanks!