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Managing Color for Consistent Customer Approval

(July 2008) posted on Mon Jun 30, 2008

Your command of color viewing and matching is critical to client satisfaction. Discover how to identify and remove the variables associated with these processes.


By Mark A. Coudray

Let’s consider how the image or color will actually be used. If you’re doing retail P-O-P display work, it’s best to match under the actual usage conditions. Retail lighting is considerably warmer than what we find in graphic-arts-proofing standards. Likewise, it’s best to ask your client before you start production which conditions they would choose as the basis for color evaluation. Such a proactive approach can greatly improve the communication between the two of you.

Now that we’ve established viewing conditions, let’s spend some time on the Pantone Matching System and some of the variables that affect how we achieve a match. At the very front of the process is the Pantone book itself. If it’s more than a year old, I would be very suspicious of any of the colors. I’m amazed at how ratty the books are that end up in the production areas and ink-mixing rooms. As an owner, I am hesitant to buy new books every year at almost $100 each for everyone who needs to specify color—particularly in the ink lab, where careless technicians mishandle the books and render them useless.

Pantone books can vary widely from year to year. I distinctly remember a new batch of books that varied from the previous by as much as 15 Delta E. Because printers generally strive for a 2-3 Delta E variance in achieving a color match, 15 is clearly unacceptable. The problem came when Pantone changed their ink base and paper. The values were so far off that I called my spectrophotometer manufacturer to make sure my instrument wasn’t out of calibration.

Are you matching coated, uncoated, or matte values? Pantone is based on lithographic printing. Screen inks have vastly different surface-reflectance values. Since we deposit six to 20 times or more ink than what’s used in litho, our final result won’t look anything like the litho ink on paper.

Our substrates are quite different as well. Not only do we often have se-vere color casts to contend with, but there also are often significant texture differences. A perfectly smooth, coated offset sheet is an ideal surface to match against. Unfortunately, our surfaces rarely match the surface on which the books are printed.


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