When marketing your business, brand consistency is a key consideration. A consistent look and feel make it easier for people to recall your company… and standing out from the competition is everyone’s goal! Achieving brand consistency seems simple enough — use the same logo, color values and design style on every marketing piece. But when it comes to printing, particularly color correctness, there are some things you need to know to ensure you get the final product you’re expecting.
CMYK vs. Spot Colors
With printing, there are two primary kinds of color specifications: CMYK and spot colors. If you have a background in printing or design, you should be very familiar with the two and know the differences. But if you don’t, here’s a summary…
CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. These are the four colors used when printing anything “full color,” which is why CMYK is also known as 4-color process. Mixing various values of each produces the desired color. An important thing to note about CMYK is that final colors can vary slightly from printer to printer and from one paper stock to the other.
Spot colors are produced by choosing a Pantone (PMS) color. PMS stands for Pantone Matching System — a standardized color system designed to produce consistent color. Instead of combining cyan, magenta, yellow and black as 4-color process does to achieve the desired color, spot colors are pre-mixed with existing and published color formulas. As a result, when printing spot colors, your selected color is almost certain to look the same regardless of which printer you use.
There is an enormous range of colors available, and PMS swatch books guide printers in color correctness. The values listed for each swatch include numbers and letters, with the letters standing for the recommended stock on which the color should be used. For example, “C” stands for coated paper, and “U” stands for uncoated paper. The swatches also list the recommended CMYK, RGB and HTML values so that the spot color can be reproduced as closely as possible in print and on-screen applications. However, it is important to note that exact matches are NOT guaranteed. CMYK has a limited color range and cannot reproduce all colors exactly. For this reason, swatch books show side-by-side examples of spot color vs. 4-color process to show the level of color discrepancy.
In summary, it’s not enough to communicate your colors in generalities, such as “Royal Blue.” There is a range of colors that could be considered royal blue, which opens the door to color inconsistencies from job to job. It’s critical to be specific. Select a Pantone color and understand the variances between its CMYK and spot color values.
The Effect of Substrates & Printing Processes
In addition to color specifications, the final look of your printed piece is impacted by the substrate on which the printing takes place, as well as the printing process used. Marketing pieces are printed on a variety of substrates: paper with numerous textures, paperboard, corrugated cardboard, fabric, plastic, metal and more. Some are porous and will absorb ink in varying amounts, while others aren’t porous and won’t absorb any at all. In addition, process inks are transparent, so the color of the substrate can show through.
The printing process used also makes a difference, as the types of inks, curing methods and gloss levels will vary depending on what is being printed and how. Often, companies look to reduce print costs and opt for “gang run” discounts. A gang run economizes your job by putting it on press with jobs of like specs. It’s important to note that gang run printing guidelines utilize “pleasing color,” meaning the press operator has acceptable color variance tolerances, and your colors can slightly differ from one run to the next. If color accuracy is critical, it’s best to pay more to run your job alone in order to precisely match your Pantone color.
The Importance of Brand Standards
A brand standards document is a valuable tool to help your company achieve brand consistency. It’s a reference that lists the PMS and CMYK values of your brand’s colors that should always be used when printing on various substrates. In addition, the brand standards should include the logo variations and fonts used by your company. Get assistance from a marketing agency with knowledge of printing if you are unsure about how to achieve consistency across common substrates.
At Adventure, we have produced brand standards documents for many of our clients. If you need to update your brand standards document or create one from scratch… or if you just have general questions about color correctness, contact us and speak to one of our production or graphic design experts.