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So you saw this really cool colour on Pinterest and when printed out the colour is objectively different, so what gives? Why is printing colour not quite as predictable as we hope?

We’re not talking about the “is your black my black” situation reminiscent of the blue-and-yellow dress incident on the interweb all those years ago (or was it blue and grey!?). The colour is shades darker or more dull, so what gives?

We’re not going to go into the physics of colour and gamuts here, but the technologies in which the colour is being created are very different on screen than on paper. Screens use RGB (red, green and blue) lights to create the facets of colours, while printing utilises CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and blacK) inks. The result is that RGB colours seem often brighter and more saturated on screen than when printed in CMYK. See this image for comparison.

Not to mention that the colour calibration for different screens are different… and then there’s paper type, texture, status of the printer and humidity levels of the day of the print. It’s a real science (and at times, a blimmin’ headache) to get it right — so it pays to have a consistent relationship with a good commercial printer so they can control the colour output for each job.

There is one way to print specialist colours like say, neon or fluoro – that’s when you buy a fifth colour to add to the print process. Pantone inks range from the normal pastels all the way up to highlighter yellows and metallic tones. However, it can be an expensive offset print process and often only economical for large print runs of over 1,000 units.

What to take away from this? Have healthy expectations about colour and how various factors will affect how it renders. And pick a brand colour that will either not deviate too much on web and print (yellows tend to be most stable), our team is trained to select palettes that are relatively stable across the board, or, if there’s a particular colour you are partial to, to have a primary and secondary colour to fall back on depending on your platform. Talk to us today if you’ve got questions on colour choices!