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colour variances in printing


How often have you received a print order for colour brochures, business cards, car wraps and signage, to find that your chosen corporate colours look different on each and do not match? This is a common issue and by educating yourself on how colour and print work, you can save yourself a lot of heartache.

First and foremost, print is a manufactured process, so there will always be slight variations in colour. Most printers will have an acceptable level of colour variance when they print a job, so be aware that slight variations are common and sometime unavoidable. Secondly, understand that colour will print differently depending on a variety of factors:

  • The colour model used in the artwork (RGB, SPOT, CMYK)
  • The printing process used (digital or offset)
  • The material it is printed on (paper, vinyl, fabric)
  • The texture or finish of the product (coated or uncoated paper stock, celloglazed, colour of the paper)

It all begins in the design stage. When designing your artwork it is important to understand the end use of the product. How is it being printed? What is it being printed on? Using a professional graphic designer could be the best business decision you make when it comes to having a consistent and professional business image.

Let’s touch briefly on the points above and why they make such a difference to how colour prints:

However similar they may look on screen, RGB, SPOT and CMYK colours will not all print the same. RGB is primarily used for online viewing only, however can be forgiving if printed on a digital printing press. CMYK and SPOT colour models use different techniques in applying the colour so will not offer exactly the same outcome. CMYK layers the colours one at a time to achieve your end result, where SPOT colour is pre-mixed before being printed. Read more about each here.

Offset printing uses a rubber ‘blanket’ to transfer the printed image from a metal plate to the paper stock. Using a mixture of ink and water balance, jobs printed offset are either printed in CMYK or SPOT colour. The use of a professional designer is essential when preparing your artwork.

Digital printers use dry toner and the image is transferred electronically to the stock. Artwork goes through far less scrutiny when being printed on digital machines as they are more ‘forgiving’ of artwork created by non-professional designers which may have some technical errors.

If you were to print the exact same job on an offset and then a digital press, there is likely to be a colour difference. That’s why it is difficult to offer a digital print proof for an offset print job as it will not be a true indication of colour. To check the colour on an offset job, a press-check would be required. This means while the job is on the press, the colours are checked and adjusted as needed, before continuing with the print run.

Read more about the benefits of offset vs digital printing here.

Type of material
When printing on paper, colour will appear differently than on vinyl, fabric or metal simply because of the way the ink sets. Quite often we might recommend slightly altering your CMYK or spot colour values depending on what you are printing on, in an effort to ensure the colour is more consistent.

Paper stock and finishing
Colour will print differently on coated versus uncoated paper. Why? 

Coated papers have a smooth coated finish. This makes the paper less absorbent so it takes ink better. Uncoated paper is just that; uncoated. It is more absorbent and therefore when the ink is applied, the colour will look different to the same colour applied to the less absorbent coated stock. A great example is to take a look at the coated and uncoated PMS colour swatch books which are used as standard in the printing industry. The same colour code will offer a different result depending on the paper stock.

Celloglazing, spot UV and varnish will also change the depth of colours. Offering a gloss celloglaze, spot UV or varnish will brighten and deepen colour, while a matt celloglaze will dull colour down but offer a smoother finish.

For a novice, it is quite a lot of information to take in. The best advice we can give is to call us, talk through your project, and have the team at The Print Group Australia look at the best options for you to get the ultimate result for your print job.