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Activate Design Limited

Graphic Design; CMYK, Spot Colours, RGB.

Further to the previous blog detailing basic setup for designing your own business cards and DIY print setup, here is some simple yet useful information about choosing and using colour in your designs; for your company logo, or for printing in general.

Digital printing is done in CMYK; Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. (Blue is ‘B’ so that is why black is ‘K’). Generally, whatever you need printed, be it letterheads, business cards, compliments slips, brochures and flyers or most other business stationary or printed material will be printed Digitally. The exception will be if you want to do very large quantities, say if you needed x 2000 or x 5000 brochures - Offset printing in this case is far more cost effective than Digital, as Offset “plates” are made of your design and can be re-used. This is also the reason why repeat print runs are better printed Offset - by repeat runs I mean printing that does not change in design, and is printed regularly, ie. brochures or rackcards.

Offset printing is traditionally the better quality print process. These days it is getting harder and harder to tell the difference as more modern digital technology becomes available. At Activate Design we print using both processes, but we still print most of our business cards Offset for several reasons; 1. Print quality is better. 2. With this process we can print on a thicker card than can be done on a Digital machine. And 3. We print our Offset business cards on a “ganged print run”, which means we print multiple cards on one sheet and print all at the same time, making it much more cost effective for you, the client. Sometimes this sheet can also include ‘double-cards’ - folded business cards, or even bookmarks and postcards - anything that requires that thicker more sturdy card stock, and the brilliant quality that is achieved on an Offset printing press.

All of this printing, both Digital and Offset, is CMYK. However - Offset printing can either be done as spot colours only, or as a single or multiple spot colour in addition to CMYK inks.

These are the questions you need to ask yourself before designing a logo or any printed stationary if you are wondering whether to use Spot Colours (ie. a specific Pantone Colour). Do you absolutely need the specific colour that you choose? Or will an approximation of that colour suffice? Bear in mind spot colours will cost more and I’ll tell you why...

Here's how it works ; on an Offset printing press the four CMYK colours are set in the machine and they look a bit like the plastic paint trays you would use for painting a wall at home. If we add a Spot colour (Pantone Colour) to the printer, then we are adding a fourth paint tray to the process. The Spot colour is added from a tin very much like the paint samples you would get from your local decor shop. There is a tin of “ink” for every Pantone colour available - but printers would not stock them all of course, if unavailable they would need to be ordered in - adding process time to your job. Offset presses differ but some can add more than one spot colour as they have a tray each for C,M,Y and K, plus one or more extra trays to add your spot colour or colours. Adding the spot colour itself is a bit of a process, the trays must be cleaned and emptied after each print run is complete. A spot colour can add a significant cost onto the job, but in some cases it is well worth it.

I recall one gym that had a very vibrant green as their company colour. They wanted to “own” this colour, and they did - by choosing a specific spot colour and having their large brochure run done with this Offset process it certainly created a dynamic and recognisable colour scheme for their business. I believe they ran their job using their spot colour and black only - which is another option for printing and would lower the cost from using CMYK - by using a single Spot colour and black, they made their job a "two colour" job. So this is some other options to keep in mind - could limit your colour palette thus making your job a "one colour", "two colour" or "three colour" job?

With using Spot colours, the trouble can then occur if you need some other quick printing done, say, just a hundred business cards. Can you match the colour? You would not print just one hundred cards on an Offset press using a spot colour as the quantity is too small so you would need to print Digitally. On a Pantone chart, it does say next to each colour whether that colour is achieveable in CMYK - some are, many are not, and it does also depend on the skill of the printer who may need to adjust the print settings of his or her digital machine to match your spot colour exactly. And that does not mean it will be able to be matched exactly on a digital machine the next time you need your cards or stationary printed! Digital machines are changable and almost impossible to have 100% the same each time you print as they are affected by paper stock, condition of the paper (ie. moisture content, temperature it was stored in, age of the paper), temperature of the room where the printer is running, and various other factors too numerous to mention.

So basically here it is ; if you want a specific colour for your logo - can it be achieved in CMYK? Will you be printing quantities large enough to justify Offset printing using a Spot/Pantone colour? I recommend you get quotes on printing potential print runs before you set your heart on a specific colour, or decide if you will be happy with an approximation of that colour - remember, with Digital printing it may be spot-on first time but for future print runs it may alter slightly - will that be an issue for you?

When you are setting up your file and you’ve decided to use CMYK - ensure your colours are CMYK in the file. If you have used a Pantone colour - which is common when choosing a colour - make sure you convert that colour to CMYK in your swatches panel. If you give a printer a file with a Pantone colour in it, they will sometimes charge you to convert that colour to CMYK - with or without your knowledge.

If you wish to print your work on an Offset Press - ensure your colour is set as a Pantone Colour. With Pantone colours there is also the option to have the colour as a “coated” or “uncoated” colour. This is in reference to the paper type you will be printing on which will have an effect on how the colour will turn out. Uncoated paper tends to absorb more of the ink, making the colour appear darker, whereas the ink tends to sit more on top with Coated papers, making the ink appear brighter in comparison. Do you know which paper you prefer? Uncoated is like the refil paper most of us use day to day, whereas Coated paper is more like the glossy stuff of magazines or travel brochures. If you choose to print your work with us, we will happily talk you through these things whether you wish to prepare the file for print yourself or not. If you are using any other printer, it would be wise to contact them and ask them how they would like the file setup, ask them how much bleed is required (if any) and whether you should use Coated or Uncoated Pantone colours - depending on which stock they will use to print your job.

And finally RGB - this spectrum of colours has a wider range of colours than does CMYK - BUT! Not all of these can be produced on a printer at all. RGB is really for viewing on a monitor only, so use these for websites or wallpaper - anything that does not require printing. If you are designing an image in RGB you may get a shock at how dull your colours will appear once you convert them to CMYK, and the design may need a lot of tweaking to get back to how you invisaged it - much better to design for print in CMYK and avoid surprises.

Most printers will be able to offer you a “Printed Proof”, which is a first printed copy of what your whole run will look like. They will likely want to show you this on the same day as the job will be printed, and this will usually only be if the job is to be printed Digitally (there is too much setup on an Offset press to be able to run a proof first). This is recommended if you are colour conscious with your design.

I hope this intro to CMYK, Spot Colours and RGB has been useful. Please feel free to contact me for any questions, and as designers and printers ourselves, we are always willing to take the worry out of designing and printing by talking you through your options and doing our creative best with your current business logo, business stationary, or printed marketing material - making use of our top notch team.

Posted in Graphic Design

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