CMYK…Like the Colors of My Mind

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved playing with and admiring colors. At the tender age of 5, in Kindergarten, I was informed that I was coloring “wrong”. Although I meticulously stayed inside the lines, Sister Mary Margaret instructed me that I was using the wrong colors and my strokes weren’t K-compliant. Even then I remember thinking “Psh…how do you know everyone else isn’t doing it wrong and I’m the only one doing it right?”

Color is subjective. Except when it comes to the grown up world of printing.

One of the most difficult tasks I’m encountered with in the Design business is explaining to my clients, when I’ve designed a new brochure, annual report, event program, logo design—what have you—is why the colors they see of the proof on their monitor are different than what they see when they print it out of their deskjet printer AND why it looks even MORE different on Susie’s monitor in the next cubicle. Not only that (I try to explain) the final, printed piece will look different still.

It’s frustrating and I completely understand and sympathize. If we are using spot colors I can show you my Pantone chart and assure you the colors will be exactly what you see on that chart. That’s the easy route. But spot colors are only useful when we are printing one, two, maybe three colors only.

Full color is a whole ‘nuther ballgame and harder to deal with. The exact mixture of the four colors Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black determines every color we print in full color printing. You’re thinking “Shouldn’t it be CMYB?” And you’re right but that’s another long explanation and not that interesting so let’s move on… I can be pretty sure how the colors will print, myself. Our devices and monitors here at the ad agency are calibrated to be pretty dead on. However once it goes to print it’s out of my hands. The offset press at the printer is calibrated (hopefully) daily and there is no guarantee it will be the same every day. Those pesky CMYK mixes might shift a tiny bit.

Truth be told, 99% of the time it’s not an issue and we are careful to make sure it isn’t, but the only way to get a color guarantee is to do a press proof and, in desperate times…a press-check. This can be costly but worth it if exact colors are a must.

Ah….misty watercolor memories. It was easier coloring in the lines in Kindergarten.

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