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Case Studies :: The Same But Not the Same

Colors are, without a doubt, one of the most important features of branding. Large corporations, and some small to midsize companies, may have branding guides which outline the specific fonts/typestyles, colors for print and web, and directions for specifications on using type, colors, and logo placement.

Some companies require that logos have a certain amount of white space around the logo so there is a measured distance from other elements. Other companies require the use of only certain fonts and specific colors. Branding guidelines are a way to keep the company's brand identity the same across the board. It's an important tool for recognizability and professionalism.

Smaller companies may not get that specific with their branding. As long as the colors are close to the way the logo was created, that’s good enough. Still, they may require that fonts are not stretched out of proportion (a bad practice anyway!) and that logos are consistent with the way it was produced.

When working with colors in branding, it’s important to note that print colors and web colors use different color spaces and, therefore, something produced on the web on a website catering to non-designers will often have drastically different looks when that same graphic is printed. This is the challenge when using programs like Canva, which is an excellent program for creating graphics to be posted on social media or on a website but not as much for print.

Print has its own rules and, as mentioned, uses a completely different color space than web. Large companies will often use Pantone colors (i.e. PMS colors) while most other companies are fine using CMYK colors which stand for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. These are the colors that most large printing presses use and is the most cost-effective way to print. Specialty printers can print using PMS matches but it is more expensive to print this way.

If that wasn’t confusing enough, colors will often appear different depending on the substrate (material) on which the printing appears. Glossy paper is a reflective surface and uncoated stock is an absorptive surface so the same item printed on each of those substrates will look like different colors were used. Adding UV gloss, aqueous coating, or silk, or velvet lamination further changes the potential for color shift. Printing on paper versus fabric, vinyl, wood, metal, coroplast, or PVC can also result in slightly different hues. Digital printing versus offset press printing is another way that colors can appear different.

To further complicate the color issue, different printers can use the same CMYK colors and end up with different results. Using the same printer doesn’t always guarantee the same colors as colors can differ slightly from batch to batch, even when the same CMYK colors are used.

The photo above is of some of the print marketing done for The Handley Law Office. It shows how the table cover, which is fabric and printed with a dye sublimation process, and the three paper printed products, which were printed on offset presses, appear slightly different from each other. The CMYK colors on all items are exactly the same yet even the two glossy papers (glossy booklet and brochure) show different greens, even though the same CMYK colors were used. The difference here is that two different printers printed these items which resulted in different color appearances.

To recap, the only way to guarantee colors will look exactly the same for each reprint is to utilize a printer who can print with PMS color matching. And, then, those colors will only work for printing on the same material; for example, business cards printed on silk paper. When the substrate is changed, be prepared for slightly different results.­ And, don’t forget that what you see online, is not necessarily the same as what is printed!

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