Don’t Let the Proof Fool You

Using electronic files for design proofing has certainly sped up the project process. But a big drawback is the lack of color accuracy. How often have you fallen in love with an on-screen proof, only to print it out and find the colors completely different?! Display colors are created with light, while printed colors are mixed with ink. They don’t always translate very well.

Light vs. Ink
With monitors, the screen starts black, and colored lights are added in different amounts. The primary colors of light are red, green, and blue (RGB). Tints of these three colors can mix to create the full range of colors you see on anything with a screen display. The combination of all three colors makes white.

Printers use an opposite method. They start with a white page and use ink to show colors. In process printing, the primary colors are cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK). These four inks can produce a wide range of colors, and are standard in both desktop printing and press printing.

In the color circles above, you can see the overlap areas—or secondary colors—are quite similar to the primary colors in the other method. These two methods can create many of the same colors. But because of their different natures, they can’t match everything exactly. Variances occur, especially in blues and purples. RGB colors are more vibrant in the lighter tones. CMYK has richer dark colors, and can create several shades of black that cannot be replicated on screen.

An Accurate Finish
For print materials, always print out the proof for a more accurate depiction of the colors. If you’re concerned about how the final color will look, request a press check. If the finished project will be electronic, like a website or e-card, view it on more than one monitor. In either case, prepare for some variance. Printers and monitors are all calibrated individually.

Another color system designed for consistent reproduction is Pantone color. Their swatch books present a wide range of colors with the recipes for vendors to match accurately. Pantone colors are a standard tool in many design and production industries for consistent, versatile color usage.

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