With all the talk surrounding the dress, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to talk about why color can look much different on your computer monitor than how it ends up printing out. If you have ever been frustrated with your brochure or flyer looking like one thing on your screen, and then printing out differently, or the home photo printer get colors completely wrong, read on:

First, a quick lesson on color. Your computer monitor is made up light-emitting diodes as pixels. Those pixels mix the colors Red, Green, and Blue to make all the colors on your screen. If you were to hold a magnifying glass up to your screen, you would see tiny red, green, and blue lights. Ink on paper, however, is obviously not made up of lights and pixels. A print shop usually mix Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black ink (also called “Key), to make most colors. This is also true of your inkjet printer at home. It is also where the term CMYK comes from. Because we are moving from one medium (lights on a computer screen) to another (ink on paper), the representation on your screen is not always accurate to what will print. This is especially true of blues and oranges. So how do designers handle this?

Enter the Pantone Matching System

pantone color book image

They are pretty much the gold standard for color accuracy. Pantone shows 3 things in their color books:

1) How a color should print out if it’s pre-mixed with their special inks (this is called a “spot color”)

2) How a color should print out if it’s printed as regular CMYK (like what your printer will probably be printing it as), and how much of each color of ink (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) to mix to get that color.

3) The numbers that you should use for the color if you are publishing it on the web

This allows designers to check the end result of how the color will actually print, versus what the screen is telling us. As you can see from the picture, it can be a significant difference:

pantone color book and computer monitor image

Designers can also go back to the color numbers to make sure that the printer didn’t make a huge mistake in their printing. If, for example, I choose Pantone 320 UP and I make the printed object 93% Cyan, 0% Magenta, 40% Yellow, and 7% Black, it should print very close to what is printed in the Pantone book. Print shops also adhere to the Pantone Matching System and calibrate their printers to match as closely as possible. Again, since 4 inks are being mixed to make the color, it won’t be perfect, but it will be close. (if you need a perfect match every time, you will need a pre-mixed Pantone “spot color”, but that’s another post for another day) This is regardless of what it looks like on a computer screen.

To keep your company colors consistent from your logo, to your signage and business cards, ask your designer to help you choose a pantone color and stick with it.