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RGB Vs CMYK Vs Spot Color

April 16, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 106

Ever wonder why your printed output looks different than it did on your monitor? I face this all the time because I design on a computer and get approval from my clients digitally (usually by Email), and no matter how much I explain to my clients that their printed work will not be the same colors as they see on the screen, they don't fully understand until I show them. That's why I always insist on proofs before I submit final designs to print. (There's also the difference between monitors and browsers, and how those are not compatible, but that's another article.) I've enlisted the help of 1Stop Printing Inc. in Golden, CO so I can speak a bit more intelligently on this subject. They have been kind enough to answer my questions, show me around their shop, and let me witness print jobs so I can be better qualified to talk about this.

Digital Printing

Monitors have a light behind them-that's why the picture is so vivid (and in today's HD world, ridiculously vivid). Anything with a monitor or screen (TV, computer monitors, phones, the little LCD on your printer, scanners, etc.) use RGB light (red, green, blue) to display color. Printers, like the one you have at home, use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) to process your print job and do so by applying small dots of ink to your paper at different angles to produce the desired color (ink jet printers). It's called Process Printing, which means it's a mix of CMYK to get the desired color you've asked for. CMYK is a generic, if you will, color package that is not created equal, so you get different looking output from printer to printer, print cartridge to print cartridge, and day to day, depending on how each printer or job is calibrated.

So why doesn't it look the same? What you're seeing is a color shift from RGB to CMYK. It's because not all RGB colors can be duplicated in CMYK, meaning they are out of the CMYK color gamut. Remember, there's a really bright light behind your monitor making those colors vibrant. RGB colors combine to make white, and CMYK colors combine to make black. You will always see a slight shift in color, although it may be very slight.

So that brings us to printing, the where and how.

When you're using your personal inkjet printer at home, you have the advantage of printing out samples of the work you want and make any color adjustments you desire according to the output. But remember, if you have to change your ink cartridge in the middle of a job, you might get a slight color shift in the remaining copies. This is even true when you go to those large "do it yourself" printing companies who offer you the use of their large printing machines at a discounted rate. This is still digital printing and CMYK processing so expect to have something slightly different than perhaps you envisioned. Especially remember that when using online, discounted printing companies. Once you submit your job, you are committed to the output regardless of color.

Offset Printing

Now you've probably heard of offset printing but wondered what it meant. I personally always prefer offset printing to digital when it's affordable because the output is really great and there's no guessing games on what color you'll get. It's commonly used on high volume commercial printing and used to be very expensive compared to digital printing, but computer technology has made offset printing more affordable.

In it's simplest explanation, offset printing means that ink is put on a plate and transferred to a printing surface. Picture yourself etching an image into a metal plate (or some other medium), adding ink to the plate, and pressing it to paper. Clearly it's more involved than that and dates back to the 1800′s and lithographic printing (very time consuming in the day), but today's printers use a computer to plate system which is extremely more efficient, especially for high volume jobs.

What you need to know about offset printing is that it is exceptional quality, it works on a wide range of surfaces, and cost goes down as quantity goes up. More importantly (for me anyway) is that you can pick the colors that you want to be printed (no guessing) and repeat jobs will be the same color time after time. This is due to the Pantone Matching System®. Digital printing simulates the colors you want using four-color process (CMYK), so the colors are less accurate, and Pantone colors are spot on.

Spot Colors

When you talk about Pantone colors, you're talking about a system of fourteen basic colors which are then mixed according to the Pantone Matching System®. This formula is used by offset printers and proves highly efficient for creating exact color matches over and over again. It's like what you do when you mix red and blue to make purple, only the Pantone system tells you exactly how much red and how much blue will get you the color of purple you want so you can recreate it over and over. When you hear someone refer to a spot color, they're talking about actual mixed colors, not the colors created using dots like in an ink jet printer.

Which do I choose? There are advantages to both printing systems.

Digital printing usually has a quicker turn around and is great for those working on a small budget. A lot of people doing small print jobs find digital printing more affordable, mainly because set up is easier. It's one of the reasons you can go to those do-it-yourself printing companies, where you get instant gratification by leaving with your output. Once you get your proof from a digital printer, all the output will look like that on that particular job, so it's great for non-repeat business. Digital printers vary, so you may have less accurate color matching on your project, but if it doesn't have to be exact, then this may be a good option.

Offset printing has higher image quality and works on a large range of printing surfaces. If you're thinking of using special paper, unusual printing surfaces, or unique sizes, offset printing might be the right choice. Although set up may be more expensive initially, unit costs go down as volume goes up, therefore it will usually be more cost effective to do high volume output at an offset printer. Spot colors give you a better color match over and over again since offset printers use actual Pantone® ink. I always recommend offset printers for logos, where they have to be exactly the same every time you print.

My advice to anyone thinking of printing a larger than normal quantity of printed material, speak to a printer first. Tell them what you want and discuss your options to find the best solution for your particular circumstance.

Roz Birkelo is a freelance graphic designer doing business as Clearly Golden, in Golden, Colorado. She specializes in print work, layout and design, production, and technical drawings.

Source: EzineArticles
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