Question from imageMEDIA Customer…

Every person ’s largest question in the printing/design world is “HOW DO I PREPARE MY FILE TO GET THE BEST COLORS PRINTED ON PAPER?”. I know from experience that imageMEDIA’s printing capabilities are spot on but a few tips to help prepare my file would be appreciated. I have heard about “color profiles”, “setting up my design environment”, “printing physical proofs”, and “pleasing color standards” all have a role in how my document prints. Can you explain these areas and how it can help me?
– Kris

Hello Kris,
This is a very well thought out and valid entry. When it comes to postcard printing (or any other printing, for that matter) and getting the best out of your artwork, we usually deal with two types of people. One type is simply looking for inexpensive, quality printing, with no regard to how the color comes out. The other type is the color-critical client that wants to be assured that the color will print exactly like what they see on their computer monitor. In this blog entry, we’ll touch on that second creature, as it is more relevant to the issues at hand.

Setting Up Your Design Environment is Essential!

The best way to get the closest color match possible to what you see on screen is to make sure your design environment reflects the type of work you’re going to be producing. In this case, we’re setting it up for printing. Let’s take it step by step.

Calibrate Your Monitor

There’s nothing worse than submitting a file with a “blue” sky, and receiving a printed piece that’s purple. The common reaction we receive is “well, it was blue on my monitor”. While this may be true, not all monitors are created equal. And, your monitor is most likely not color calibrated.

Most computers allow you to calibrate your monitor by using a calibrating software, such as Adobe Gamma. By launching this utility and following the on-screen directions, you should get a fairly decent calibration. If you want to get some real calibration done, purchase a monitor calibration tool such as the one produced by Huey. These tools are affixed to your monitor and take readings from the screen and calibrate it automatically.

Color Profile

When ever you’re sending something to print, be aware of what type of presses they’ll be running. Will you be running newsprint on web press, or postcards on a sheet-fed press. At imageMEDIA, we use sheet-presses. So, to follow the industry standard, you can select to use the U.S. Sheetfed Coated profile (in Photoshop, this is set up in your Color Settings dialog.

Here’s a problem. If you’re designing a piece that’s going to be printed on a sheet-fed press, but are using a Web Press profile, the colors are going to look differently on screen. The whole point of using the correct profile is to see the most accurate reproduction of what your file will look like in it’s printed state.

Color Mode

This is simple. ALWAYS DESIGN YOUR “PRINT” FILES IN CMYK! We can’t stress this enough. RGB is made for the web, television, and computer presentations. “But I can’t get those same vibrant colors on my design if I use CMYK”. That’s the point! Our printers can’t print those colors. That’s why CMYK won’t create them. If CMYK can’t create a color, than it can’t be printed in 4-color process. Design in CMYK and make the most out of the colors available. Thiers MILLIONS! And they produce amazing work every day.

Printing Physical Proofs

Printing physical proofs on your inkjet printer can only do so much. Inkjet printer technology pretty much opposes the commercial printing standards, in the fact that inkjet printers are actually built to print RGB files better. Don’t ask me why, but this is the case. So trying to get a physical proof out of your inkjet printer is going to be a little less than useless. It would be more valuable for you to calibrate your monitor and use the right color profile than to try to bring us a physical proof to match off of your inkjet printer. Also, try to gain a bit of knowledge on building colors by numbers. There’s a number of online tutorials that explain how to color correct by numbers, using percentages of ink to build your desired flavor.

Pleasing Color Standards

This should be easy, too. If your postcard has a red car on it, and it prints orange, then it’s probably not going to be very pleasing. However, if your red car happens to print in a slightly darker or lighter tint of red than you expected, but doesn’t hurt the over all design, it’s not going to ruin your marketing efforts. Pleasing color standards means that it’s going to be acceptable to the public eye as a realistic effort of reproducing a certain elements colors. Yellow corn, whether canary yellow or corn yellow, is still going to be acceptable.

If you’re design requires an absolute color match, such as in a logo and such, then you’ll be better off requesting a custom Pantone ink. This will cost a lot more in the end, but your color will be exact.

Hope this helps. Keep em’ comin! Good post!