The second article in a series about color, color matching systems, and best practices.
The first article in this series explained where color matching systems such as Pantone and Toyo came from, and best practices for attaining good color in print projects that are further developed in this article.
First, let’s talk about color responsibility. When I choose Pantone 205 U, I am responsible for the way that color looks in the final product. This means I need to keep good records so I have documentation about every element in my file set-up: color space, color profile, and communications with the printer. That way, in the event of a dispute, I can prove to the printer that 205 U is what I ordered. The printer, then, is responsible for a re-run, not me.
Second, pay attention to the lighting condition in which you, your client, and printer specify and evaluate color. Colors we see on the printed page are the result of light simultaneously reflecting off the paper’s surface and being absorbed by it. In color theory, this relationship is referred to as subtractive versus additive color. Jackie Atkin at X-rite, owner of Pantone and Munsell, explains that this reflective/absorption relationship is why one color can look like what you expect on a smooth, neutral white paper and completely different on a color stock or other paper with a lot of texture.
Michael Riordan at Rochester Institute of Technology, in a phone interview, points out that it’s unrealistic to think the paper and print process used in normal design projects will match how Pantone chips are produced.
The third important practice is to keep your color library current and provide vendors with samples from your library. To quote Tim Heyer, Senior Creative Manager at Pantone:
“Inks fade and paper yellows, both of which can affect the appearance and accuracy of a color. To be certain that you’re always referring to the most accurate color, Pantone recommends you replace your guides and books on a yearly basis.”
The fourth element in your color matching arsenal is understanding expectations about color and how exact a color needs to be. Some clients (and designers) are quite happy with getting close to matching a specific color, while others insist color be spot-on.
Dawn Nye, Solutions and Services Marketing Manager at Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc. reminds us that print cannot reproduce the full spectrum of colors we’ve come to expect on screen. If a client is looking at a color on their iPhone, you can bet it won’t match any spot color chip in your library! Instead, provide your client with a Pantone, Toyo, or other color sample of your own, one you know is compatible with the inks your printer is using.
What happens when your business is web-based? I asked Toby Hextall, Head of Product Design at MOO, Inc., the online printing company, how they handle spot color. He explained their manner of dealing with color matching is with personalized service. When a client has special color needs, it is best to contact Moo directly. Further, if a customer is dissatisfied with the product as delivered, Moo will re-do and fix it.
The most interesting color matching model I discovered while researching this series is from Spoonflower online textile printer. Want to design fabric on your laptop? Order a color guide, on fabric of your choice, and receive one in the mail enabling you to design with a pretty good notion of how it will print at Spoonflower.
Thus proving that meeting client expectations, and your own, is possible.