Another Printing Disasters—and How to Avoid Them story…

In the previous article, I discussed designers’ challenges of maintaining consistent brand color. This topic stirred my curiosity, so I contacted Jim Raffel, a color expert I’d connected with on Twitter, to learn more.

Introducing Jim Raffel, color measurement pro

Jim is co-founder of ColorMetrix Technologies, LLC, a company that develops color verification and process control solutions for the printing and consumer packaged goods industries. Jim explained that these customers adopt color measurement systems to help them deliver consistent color in printed products.

Jim said that computer monitors, proofing machines and specific printing presses are all calibrated so that the way the colors look on screen and on proofs will be a reliable gauge of the color that will roll off the presses. Ambient light is also considered. You may have visited prepress rooms lit with subdued, controlled-spectrum lighting to ensure that what is seen on monitor screens is not affected by room’s lighting conditions.

The print industry has also developed color guidelines such as GRACoL and SWOP specifications and the ISO 12647 standards, along with software and tools for measuring and correcting how closely the colors align to these guidelines. Printers or print groups that adhere to these guidelines say they can make the colors match on any substrate.

Jim explained further that these systems all rely on scientific measurements of color rather than the human eye for extremely precise color matching. “We numerically quantify the color to get it right.”  L*a*b* color numbers are an example of this kind of physical measurement of color. Software and measurement devices like the ones ColorMetrix sells allow users to validate the monitors soft color proofs are viewed on and ascertain that hard copy proofs represent colors consistently.

He reflected that color is a bigger part of brands than ever, now that customers have so many more opportunities to see products online before seeing and picking a packaged product off the store shelf.

When prospective customers see products on screen first, designers have no control on how the real brand color is perceived, Jim commented. Monitor quality and settings also result in wide variation in how the colors look to the customer. “For truly critical color, you need a $2000 ISO standard monitor. Most monitors are very limited and quality varies widely.”

Jim emphasized that in our web-influenced world, tighter controls to get correct color may influence purchase decisions more than ever.

Design Studio color disaster avoidance tips

Sophisticated packaging professionals may have color consistency locked down, but what about design studios? The color looks different on each monitor, printers are not calibrated, and studios are brightly lit.

I asked Jim how graphic designers could get the colors they have in mind, both on screen and in print. Here are a couple of his suggestions:

Try a Simple Calibration Tool
Large studios working on consumer packaging for Fortune 500 companies invest in color verification systems like the ones ColorMetrix offers. But Jim suggests taking a stab at color control with an inexpensive, user-friendly monitor and printer calibrating device called ColorMunkie. “Even calibrating studio monitors and printers weekly can help a designer get relatively consistent, repeatable color,” he advised.

Investigate Alternate Printing Techniques
Jim also told me that extended gamut inks can reproduce a much wider range of colors than 4-color process inks. You may be familiar with extended gamut and not know it: Some ink jet printers use an extended range of ink colors: light magenta and light cyan in addition to CMYK.

Although extended gamut systems have not been adopted by the majority of printers, some consumer packaging printers are using extended gamut systems to capture a wider range of brand colors more accurately. All use the 4 process colors, plus 2 or more additional colors. You can read more about extended gamut here.

Learn More
To read more about color verification tools and solutions, visit the ColorMetrix Technologies web site. Also check out what Jim Raffel calls his “geeky”collection of color information bookmarks for web sites covering everything from color blindness to color management and analysis.

This is just the tip of the color measurement iceberg. I welcome your thoughts. Please continue the conversation by leaving a comment. Thanks!