Color in Large Format Printing
Getting color right in printing can be a real challenge. Consistency means the ability to get color correct “the first time, every time” (to quote the famous rice commercial) — and also to get color that matches throughout a print run and from run to run.
Discussing color can get very involved very quickly. Hitting correct colors can be a real challenge. There are many factors that can effect the colors you as a designer are trying to hit so it is always preferred if you can start with a constant or the universal language among designers and printers; the Pantone Management System (PMS).
The precision begins with the printing ink manufacturers who are licensed by Pantone to manufacture inks for mixing PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM Colors. To retain their license, they must annually submit samples of the 18 basic colors for approval by Pantone. Printers can then order the colors by number or mix it themselves according to the ink mixing formula in a PANTONE® FORMULA GUIDE. A PANTONE Chip supplied with the ink and/or job ensures that the printer achieves the color desired by the customer.
Each color in the System has a unique name or number followed by either a C or U. The letter suffix refers to the paper stock on which it is printed: C for Coated paper and U for Uncoated paper. Also created without screens, PANTONE metallic and pastel colors are considered part of the PANTONE
Due to the gamut of the 18 basic colors, some spot colors will be cleaner and brighter than if they were created in the four-color process described below. Spot colors are commonly used in corporate logos and identity programs, and in one, two or three-color jobs.
I use the PMS coated colors as a content when working with environmental files. This is what many printers request when working with PMS colors.
There are a few print vendors who do take RGB files as those files tend to be smaller and the color gaumet is much larger than the CMYK palette. I personally have never sent files as RGB.
Colors created without screens or dots, such as those found in the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM®, are referred to in the industry as spot or solid colors. From a palette of 18 basic colors, each of the spot colors in the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM is mixed according to its own unique ink mixing formula developed by Pantone. You probably mixed yellow and blue paint to get green in your youth. Creating a PANTONE Spot Color is similar in concept, but with the added need for precision.
The most common method of achieving color in printing is referred to as CMYK, four–color process, 4/c process or even just process. To reproduce a color image, a file is separated into four different colors: Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow (Y) and Black (K).You can convert your PMS spot colors to process color (cmyk) but if you do this, convert all your colors you are working with. For example, PMS123C will print differently as spot and as process.Gradations: you will have to convert your PMS spot colors to process to get a smooth gradation otherwise it might be muddy. There are some vendors who do not like vector gradations because they might tend to ‘band”. This also might happen if you create a gradation in a small area in your design.
I have spent many, many hours creating colors tests. Using Adobe Illustrator I would set-up 1”x 1” squares of PMS colors. If I was trying to hit PMS 186C red I would add squares of 186 and all surrounding colors and similar looking colors. I would sent this file with the date and vendor name on it to have them print it on all the substrates I was working with. I would send this same color test to other print vendors as well. After getting the physical color test back on different fabrics, adhesive vinyls and perforated vinyls I might have to change my red PMS 186C to 185C when using adhesive vinyl so it visually prints like 186.Things like weather, ink levels, how long the print is and the actual printer can effect the color but technology in the printing industry has gotten quite good these days and I tend to put it on the printer to match my colors accurately.It’s always good to have an office printer that prints colors accurately. This way you can send the print vendor that printed piece on paper to match.In the last few year’s more and more print vendors print from high quality PDFs which makes the designer’s life much easier. We don’t have to send links and fonts BUT I personally am skeptical getting accurate color with PMS files. The printer can’t do tweaks like they can if you send them Illustrator files. I do prefer sending an Illustrator file with with the fonts as objects and including a lo-res PDF file with “FOR REFERENCE ONLY” in the title.
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Ian Ransley DESIGN
Ian Ransley is a Bay Area Digital Artist, Graphic Designer and Illustrator who has designed some of the most popular large-scale sporting and corporate events in the world.