Color and Commercial Printing Basics

Color printing isn’t simple. It seems like it would be, but it isn’t. Here are the basics.

Full-Color Printing

A lot of commercial printing is full color. It uses four inks to create text, photographs, and logos. This goes by several names: offset printing, process printing, full-color, four-color, CMYK. It’s typical for brochures, business cards, postcards and even signs and some promotional items.

For efficiency, many CMYK print jobs are done at the same time on large sheets. This gets the best price, but it isn’t good for perfect color matching. It’s usually perfectly adequate for business printing. But colors can shift a little from one job to the next. Most people won’t notice the difference unless two print jobs are viewed side by side. Even then, there’s often no difference.

For the most consistent full-color printing, each job needs to be printed by itself. This gives better color consistency but not the best price.

Color-Match Printing

You might have heard of the Pantone Matching System (PMS). With it, printers can consistently reproduce exact colors. It’s used for spot colors like logos, not for photographs. PMS colors can sometimes be reduced to a tint to create lighter shades on the same piece. In some cases, only full-strength PMS spot colors can be used.

PMS is good for exact color matching.

On-Screen Proofing

Monitors can display colors that can’t be printed, and most monitors aren’t calibrated. Even so, screen proofing is usually good enough for commercial printing when exact color matching isn’t needed.

When you want color matching or a good sense what your printed piece will look like, get a printed proof. If you need really good color matching, find a local printer that can hand-hold your job. Even better, pay for a production proof, and be there when the job is run. It costs extra, but when you need something perfect, that’s what it takes.