Have you ever received a batch of business cards and the logo color was not quite right? Does the logo on your website look like a different color than the logo on your pocket folder? Keeping brand colors consistent is a battle that all marketers must fight. Here are a few tips to help you win:
Three Major Color Formats
To begin, let’s define the three major color formats that are used today: Process, Spot, and RGB.
Process colors, also known as CMYK colors or 4C, are the four colors used in the majority of full-color printing. The inks used in process printing are cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, or CMYK. (“K” is used for “black” to avoid the confusion that “B” means “blue”). By combining varied amounts of these four inks, a wide range of colors can be simulated. If you look at a 4C printed piece with a magnifying glass, you can actually see the individual dots of color. To create green, for example, dots of cyan and yellow would be used. At normal viewing distance, the dots merge together and the eye sees green. All full-color photographs require 4C process colors when printing.
Spot colors are usually defined by the Pantone library, or Pantone Matching System (yes, that’s PMS for short). PMS colors are solid inks, very much like cans of paint that you’d use to paint your house. By specifying a PMS number, you can help keep your stationery colors consistent from run to run. Certain colors, such as bright orange and royal blue, can be very difficult to print in CMYK, and look much more vibrant with spot ink. Specialty inks such as metallics and day-glow fluorescents require spot colors, as they can not be accurately simulated in CMYK.
RGB colors are primarily used for on-screen viewing, and stand for Red Green Blue. Like CMYK colors, they are made up of tiny dots that when viewed at a normal distance simulate a wide spectrum of colors. Since RGB colors are used for screen viewing, they are based on light, rather than ink. A computer monitor or a digital camera both use RGB dots to simulate the colors we see every day with the human eye. Photos, logos and other graphics specifically for websites and PowerPoint presentations, for example, should be created in RGB colors.
Tips for Keeping Logo Color Consistent
- Make sure you have your logo in each of the three color formats: Spot, CMYK, and RGB. Make sure you use the right format for each project (see #2 below if you’re not sure.)
- Use the correct file format. Here’s a chart with a rundown of the most common file formats for graphics and images and what they’re good for.
- Keep paper consistent. Colors will look different when printed on different paper. Obviously, if you print your logo on white paper, it will look different that if you print it on a colored paper, even if that color is a subtle shade of cream. To complicate matters further, colors printed on a coated paper stock typically look much more vibrant and bright than when printed on an uncoated paper stock. This applies to CMYK colors as well as spot colors. If, for example, you print your business cards and stationery on uncoated paper, but print your pocket folder and pitchbooks on coated paper, you may need to have an additional logo set for coated versus uncoated applications.
- Don’t stress too much over monitor colors. Every monitor will display color a bit differently. Personal preferences (such as brightness settings) also factor into how colors appear. Colors on PC monitors almost always look less vibrant than on Mac monitors. Colors can shift on the same computer, when viewed in different browsers.
- Make sure you have a brand standards manual. A manual should outline your brand colors, as well as other important criteria. Here is basic information on what to include.
A Final Note About Color Printing
One or two-color printing used to be less expensive than four-color printing, before the advent of digital presses. Digital presses primarily print in CMYK, and low-volume print runs are cheaper on digital presses. Thus, if you are running a thousand sheets of letterhead or business cards, you’ll probably pay a lot less if you run the job digitally in process colors.
Mike’s Technical Tip: Know Your Process, Spot, and RGB Colors
Vanessa’s article first appeared in SMPS Boston’s Outlook,.