Whether you’re just about to start your design project or in the finalising stages, specifying the colour you want can get complicated as there are many systems involved that display the colour you want differently. Why is this and how can you get the best results when specifying colours?
In the design world we view colours in 2 physical formats, digitally on a device such as a computer monitor, tv or ipad, and print such as brochures and magazines. These 2 formats use different ways of representing colour, RGB for digital devices and CMYK for printed materials, so the colour you see on screen will not exactly be the same as it is when printed.
(See my article about the difference between RGB and CMYK for further details).
To help remedy this difference, colours are given codes to reference. There are several colour reference/code systems for each format and these include:
HEX code (or sometimes referred as web), looks like this: #f28b00.
RBG ref (red, green and blue), looks like this: R=242, G=139, B=0
There are also other colour systems such as Lab.
PMS or Pantone Matching System (sometimes referred to as Spot colours) and tend to look like this: 144C or 144U (C after the figure is for coated, U for uncoated).
CMYK ref, look like this: C=0, M=50, Y=100, K=0 or sometimes shortened to 0,50,100,0
At this point, it would be good to mention each system can slightly change the colour you choose.
So you have chosen a colour, which most commonly you have seen on your screen and you now want to use this colour in your brochure, what do you do next?
Of course, if you have already gone through this process before and have colour references you can send to your designer that you are happy with a lot of this you won’t need to do, but we would always advise getting some sort of proof if using new colours or new printers.
What about the other way around? That’s easier as you should be able to gain a colour reference to use on screen from the print artwork. If you didn’t create the printed material then you would have to match this with the designer using colour swatches and choosing a colour reference from there. The designer can then tweak the colour if needed on screen to get the best match.
As you can see there are a lot of variables to consider and getting a colour exact over a large range of digital and print uses is very difficult and you might need to be flexible and go with the best match approach to some uses. The biggest potential mistake (and cost) is not getting a colour proof before progressing with print as the colours you see on screen might not be the same when printed, if there is any doubt get a proof.