Introduction | Spot Color | Four
Color Process Printing | High-Fidelity Color Printing
| Color Tips
Before actually printing with color, it is necessary to understand
some of the factors that influence the appearance of colors on a printed document.
Listed below are some of the important points to consider:
are a good tool for determining the color that should be used, (such as spot colors), they should be used only as a guide. There is no guarantee that
the final printed color will look exactly like the color in the guide. The
colors in the guides tend to fade, so the guides are usually valid for about
a year. The color swatches in a guide are usually printed with a saturation
that may be hard to achieve on some applications.
- The type of paper on which color is printed has a huge affect on the way
the color appears. The same color will appear to be quite different when printed
on coated and uncoated papers. The ink absorption rate, along with the brightness
and the color of different papers can result in significant changes in the
way color appears on different papers.
- There can be differences in ink pigments between different ink manufacturers,
which is another reason why it is difficult to perfectly match the color in
a guide. Most printers use ink from one vendor, so they can usually expect
consistency in the ink they use.
- Lighting conditions affect the appearance of the ink color. Differences
in daylight during different times of the day and differences in artificial
illumination, such as fluorescent and incandescent, can cause a wide shift
in the appearance of a color.
Precise color matching can only occur when the preceding factors
are considered. A color
viewing booth can be used in order to accurately match the printed color
with the proof. Lighting conditions, materials, and the techniques used,
must be controlled in order to achieve the best results when printing with color.
Spot color is usually considered to be any color used on a document
that is not a process color. It can be used simply as a secondary color or as
a color to provide emphasis to an area of a printed piece. Spot colors can be
used as an area of emphasis on a four-color process job with the spot color
generally printed as a color on a separate plate and not as part of the four-color process.
Specialty inks can also be used as a spot color to provide even
greater emphasis to an area. Specialty inks can range from fluorescent, fade
resistant, opaque, and metallic inks.
Many of the specialty inks demand unique considerations for their
proper use at the press. Metallic inks may require that the press run at a slower
rate than usual and the preparation and clean up time may be longer. Fluorescent
inks are very transparent and may require that the printed document be run a
second time through the press to achieve the desired coating of ink. The challenges
created by the specialty inks in terms of printing may increase the price of
a printed document to a degree that it may not be cost effective to use the
specialty ink for a particular application unless a large quantity is produced.
Spot Color - A single color applied to one area
or "spot" rather than layering colors on top of
each other to achieve a desired hue.
Printing an image in full-color is a complicated process involving
a number of steps. A basic knowledge of these steps is not only essential for
printers, but it is also important for designers in planning and creating the
best layouts and for print buyers in understanding some of the issues that are
raised when purchasing color work.
Red, Green and Blue (RGB),
are the primary colors of white light and are called the Additive
Primary Colors. We are able to see color because different objects
reflect and absorb, or subtract, the primary colors of light differently.
For example, we see an object as yellow because it absorbs (or subtracts)
blue light from white light. Since the blue light has been absorbed,
the red and green light is leftover and is reflected back to our
eyes. The red and green light combine to make yellow and so we see
the color of the object as yellow. This is known as the Subtractive
Color Process because portions of the visible light spectrum are
subtracted from white light to reveal color. If 100% of the red light
is subtracted from white light the resulting color is cyan. (The green light and blue light are the remaining primary light colors after the red
is removed and the green and blue combine to form cyan). If 100% of
the green light is subtracted from white light the result is magenta
(red and blue light form magenta) and when 100% of the blue light
is subtracted from white light the result is yellow (red and green
light form yellow). Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow
(CMY) are the Subtractive Primary Colors, and are used
for color reproduction in process color printing.
Human Eye Sees
|M + Y
|C + Y
|C + M
The combination of the primary colors in varying degrees is what creates
the illusion of a full color printed image. In the lightest and whitest
areas of the printed image, very little of the primary colors are present
so these areas appear very light. In the darkest areas of the printed
image, much more of each color is present making the areas appear darker.
The combination of the three subtractive primaries, each at 100% strength,
should create black, but since cyan, magenta, and yellow color pigments
are not perfect, there is no way of creating a true black color when they
are combined. If full strength cyan, magenta, and yellow, are combined,
the resulting color is actually a dark, muddy brown color. Even if it
were possible to combine all three primaries at full strength to create
black, printing 100% of any or all of the subtractive primaries can cause
a saturation of color on the printed surface which can result in very
poor print quality. Because of this problem, the addition of black is
necessary to assist the cyan, magenta, and yellow in creating the darkest
hues, to deepen shadows, and to produce a true black text. Cyan, Magenta,
Yellow, and Black, (CMYK), form the basis of the four-color printing process.
The "K" is used to signify black to avoid confusion with blue.
Because the mixture of the primary ink colors do not make a true black,
it is necessary to add black ink to achieve deeper shadows and true black
The mixture of 100% of any two primary colors will result in a secondary
color. 100% yellow and cyan will result in green; 100% cyan and magenta
result in blue; and 100% magenta and yellow result in red. The secondary
colors are also the same as the primary light colors (RGB).
In order to reproduce or prepare a full color image
for printing using four process colors, the image must be divided
into the individual subtractive primary color components. The
separation process can be accomplished photographically or electronically.
Photographic Separations: Using a large process camera,
a full color image is converted into halftone negatives which,
contain a series of dots of various sizes to represent shades
of gray. The dots are achieved with the use of special screens
placed over the negative material during exposure. When printed,
the smaller dots create the lighter areas of the image, with the
lightest appearing white, and the larger dots make up the darker
areas of the image, with the darkest appearing black. This system
of using the halftone screens directly with the film is known
as the Direct Screen Photographic Color Separation method.
A halftone negative is made for each of the separate subtractive
color components of the image (cyan, magenta, yellow) and black.
The four halftone negatives are records, in varying shades of
gray dots, for each of the separate color components and are known
as "Color Separations".
Another photographic technique known as the Indirect Photographic
Color Separation method is also used. The original image is
separated into the individual primary color components and continuous
tone films are made for each of the separations. From the separated
films, the halftone negatives or positives are created. The advantage
in first creating continuous tone separations before creating
the halftones is that the continuous tone separations can be reduced
or enlarged and corrected before the actual halftone films are
Color separations created from photographic methods are used to
plates for traditional printing methods. Each plate corresponds
to one of the four colors, cyan, magenta, yellow, or black. The
plates are coated with the corresponding ink colors during the
printing process and the inked image from the plates is transferred
to the substrate. The varying sizes of the halftone dots on the
plates, determines the amount of ink that will be printed on the
substrate. The dots from each of the different colored images
overlap to produce the full color image.
Electronic Separations: The electronic separation of an
image into its individual color components has become the most
popular and labor saving method of producing color separations.
The separations can be produced from an image produced with analog
methods, such as photography, or from a digitally generated image.
When producing separations from an image produced with analog
methods, the image is first placed in a scanner, which converts
the image into a digital record. The digital image can then be
imported into an image editing software program where the color
separations can be produced with the click of a mouse. The scanned
image and/or the color separations can be quickly manipulated
and edited in an infinite number of ways with the tools provided
with the software.
Color separations can also be produced from digitally produced
images, such as from a digital camera or images composed entirely
in design or illustration software on a computer. Digitally produced
images eliminate the scanning step from the workflow.
Color separations created electronically can be output to film
to prepare analog plates or they can be used for Computer-to-Plate
applications and digital
The rows of dots on the screens used for each color
separation must be positioned at a specific angle so that the printed
dots do not form a distracting pattern. The angles are: 45 degrees
for black, 75 degrees for magenta, 90 degrees for yellow, and 105
degrees for cyan. The angles form a rosette pattern, which is
merged into one continuous tone by the human eye.
If the screens are positioned at the wrong angles and
then printed, the rosette pattern will not be
correct and a moiré pattern appears, which results in
an image that no longer has a smooth gradation of color. An example
of a moiré pattern is shown below.
Dot gain occurs when the size of the halftone dot increases
due to several variables. If the size of the dot increases too much,
then the image and colors print darker than what was originally intended.
Some of the variables that affect dot gain are:
- Prepress - if the negatives from different sources are duplicated
to produce the final film, the dots may increase in size. Printing
plates produced from the duplicated negatives may be incorrect which
may result in a change in the dot size.
- Printing Equipment - the type of press, the age and condition
of the equipment, and press settings such as plate and blanket packing,
printing cylinder settings, and ink and water balance, may determine
the degree of dot gain on a printed sheet.
- Ink - ink is not the same from all manufacturers. Inexpensive
or low-grade ink is more likely to cause dot gain problems than
a higher priced, high-quality ink.
- Paper - it is normal for printed dots to increase in size slightly
as wet ink spreads and is absorbed by the paper. Different papers
cause ink to absorb and spread differently at different rates. An
uncoated paper stock may not be as suitable for color printing as
a coated stock, because it absorbs ink at a faster rate. It is always
best to consult the print provider when determining which paper
is best suited for a particular application.
Several factors can cause the individual colors of a
four-color image to become misaligned, which results in gaps and color
shifts between objects. Some of these factors include:
- Prepress - negatives may be produced correctly or they may become
stretched, resulting in the separate colors not registering correctly
when printed. Also, if printing plates are produced incorrectly,
the image on the plate may become crooked, resulting in poor registration
of the individual colors when printed.
- Plates - improper plate and/or blanket packing on the press can
affect the image on the printing plates. The plates can also be improperly
installed on the press resulting in poorly registered colors.
- Paper - occasionally, paper stretches and distorts when it absorbs
moisture as it passes through a printing press. The stretching and
distortion of the paper may result in poor registration of the individual
Trapping can help compensate for registration problems
by slightly expanding one color into another and eliminating the gaps
and color shifts between colors. For trapping to be effective, it
must compensate for less than perfect registration without forming
noticeable lines of unrelated color around objects caused by the overprint.
Process colors that share a sufficient percentage of common colors
do not require trapping, because any registration problems will reveal
a color that is similar to each of the adjacent colors. An example
of where trapping would not be necessary would be a printed item containing
mostly reds and oranges. If the object on such a page were not in
perfect register, the result would not be visually distracting because
the colors in the gaps and overprinted areas would be similar to any
|The sequence in which the process colors are printed also influences ink
trapping. For standard four-color printing, the correct sequence to print
the process colors are black, cyan, magenta, and finally yellow. Printing
the colors in the correct sequence will help ensure the best results. A
change in the standard sequence will result in a change in the ink trapping
High-Fidelity Color Printing
High-fidelity is a method of color printing that utilizes additional
process inks to produce a greater range of color on the printed piece. There
are many different versions of high-fidelity printing, but they all use conventional
or enhanced versions of CMYK inks plus additional colors to increase the color
Like four-color printing, a halftone negative is made for each
of the individual color components. Instead of four separate negatives that
are required for CMYK color separations, five or more separations may be required,
depending on the high-fidelity process used. Plates are then exposed using the
halftone negatives. The exposed plates are then ready for printing the application
using the appropriate ink colors. Listed below are several options that can
be used to achieve high-fidelity printing:
- Orange and green can be added to enhanced versions of cyan, magenta, yellow,
and black to increase the range of color.
- Orange and violet can be added to CMYK.
- The additive primary colors of red, green, and blue can be added to CMYK
either individually, in pairs, or all together.
- A special set of cleaner CMYK colors can be used.
- More than one set of CMYK colors can be printed with each set at different
- One or more of the CMYK colors can be replaced with another color depending
on the effect that is desired.
An example of a high-fidelity color system is the PANTONE Hexachrome®
system which uses orange and green in addition to enhanced versions of cyan,
magenta, yellow, and black. The use of the six high-fidelity colors increases
the range of color by 20% and provides improvement in transitions between colors.
The high-fidelity color system can reproduce more than 90% of the Pantone Matching
An important point when considering the use of high-fidelity printing
for an application is the fact that the process requires a press with five or
more printing units in order to print an application in one pass on one side.
Without the proper quantity of printing units on the press, the application
would have to be run through the press more than one time, making the job more
expensive than if it had been printed in one pass. Although conventional offset
presses as well as digital six-color presses make the process more efficient,
they are very expensive and require additional skills to operate, which also
adds to the cost of printing a high-fidelity application.
High-fidelity color printing is also more expensive than traditional
four-color printing because of the extra prepress work involved. For a six-color
high-fidelity application, two additional color separations are required as
well as two additional plates. When compared with four-color jobs that are printed
with additional spot colors, there is not a great difference in the cost.
Printing a high-fidelity application digitally can be less expensive
than with conventional printing depending on the quantity. Very small quantities
are often more economical when printed with digital equipment because there
are fewer steps involved with the process. The price per sheet is the same regardless
of the quantity, which differs from conventional printing in that the smaller
the quantity, the greater the price per sheet.
- Pure violets, greens and oranges are very difficult to match using four-color
process printing. To achieve vibrant colors, a fifth spot color or 6-color
high-fidelity printing can be used.
- Fluorescent and metallic colors cannot be achieved by using four-color process
printing. A spot color is necessary for printing the fluorescent and metallic
- For a rich black use a mixture of 40%C, 30%M, 30%Y, & 100%K instead
of just 100% black. The combination of all of these colors in the correct
proportions will create a black with a darker appearance.
- Only 50% of the PANTONE colors can be closely simulated using four-color
process printing, but nearly 90% can be simulated with the use of high-fidelity
- Pantone colors in desktop software are not always the same. Always check
the built-in percentages.
- Never trust the color on the monitor. It is always best to use the color
values and percentages.
- Banding can often occur in gradient blends (vignettes). Banding is the visible
lines between the color changes in the gradient. To help eliminate banding,
limit the change in a color to no more than 75% from end to end. For example,
instead of going from 0% cyan to 100% cyan, start at 10% and end at 80%. If
you are using PhotoShop to create the gradient, try adding a pixel or two
of noise from the noise filter.
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