Meeting customers’ color expectations requires more than simply installing a color software package onto your print device. It begins in the design stage. While that design may come from outside sources, the final outcome reflects on your print shop. Educating your customers up front about what to expect and how to help get the color they want is well worth investing the extra time.
Here are the 5 key steps for customers and their partners to understand to ensure color consistency and overall satisfaction in the end product.
Printing Variables: Visualize the Final Product
Accurate color management in the print production process is incredibly complex, and while your customers don’t need to understand all of the details, it is important to help them visualize what their finished product will look like.
The specific steps you take to help shape expectations will vary depending on your business structure and the customers you serve. Are you a local print shop with in-person contact with customers or an online print or marketing service provider shipping products to a regional, national or global market? Either way, it is essential to use the tools you have at your disposal to help customers understand what to expect in the final product, based on the inks, printer type and substrate being used.
A few tools that may help them understand how colors may differ from what they see on the screen or depending on the printer type or paper include:
- Online collaboration and soft proofing programs.
- Pantone Color Bridge Guide swatch books to show, side-by-side, how specific Pantone colors will render when printed using CMYK technology.
- Proof setup and preview tools within software such as Adobe InDesign® showing how different factors affect the printed piece’s color. Default settings will closely replicate basic options, but you can also customize settings to your specific paper and printer to show customers how the final product will look with your equipment.
- Printed samples or proofs.
Regardless of the tools you can use, help customers understand that what they see on the screen will rarely be a perfect replication of the final product. The next section explains why.
Calibration and Quality
Monitor and printer calibration is a complex process, and you get what you pay for in terms of how closely what you see on the screen depicts the final printed product. High-end monitors will show images in millions of colors—nearly the entire Adobe® RGB color gamut—while value-priced monitors may display only sRGB colors, about 65% of the Adobe RGB gamut.
If customers can see examples on your facility’s calibrated monitors, in a Pantone Color Bridge Guide or actual printed samples, there is a much greater likelihood of matching expectations to the final outcome. However, it often isn’t possible to have that level of interaction. That heightens the importance of helping your customers understand that what they see on their own computer monitors might not match the final product—especially if their monitors aren’t correctly calibrated or are low quality.
To demonstrate the differences between print and monitor , suggest holding a sheet of white paper up to a white background on their monitor—chances are they will see a difference. If the paper looks gray in comparison, the monitor’s brightness level is set too high or the ambient light is too low. If the white on the monitor has a pink or blue cast, the RGB (red/green/blue) balance is off. This exercise only demonstrates the effects of monitor and ambient light without having designed or printed anything yet, but if the paper and monitor white points are not the same, how can a printed image match what you see on the monitor?
Most operating systems offer test images to manually calibrate monitor screens. Instruments such as a spectrophotometer or colorimeter can profile the monitor for even more precise screen calibration.
Digital vs. Offset vs. Large Format: Understanding Device Limitations
When it comes to color production, not much has changed since kindergarten: more crayons equals more colors. In the printing world, this translates into differences between what can be seen in digital (display ) applications and what can be achieved with various printer types, including inkjet, toner, offset and large format printers.
Four-color printers using a combination of cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK) can leave gaps in the color gamut, especially in tones involving orange, green or intense blues. Some devices do offer one or two extra colors to enhance the color gamut or as special effects, depending on the manufacturer.
With offset printing, if a customer needs a very specific color that doesn’t render well in CMYK—for example the bright orange found in logos for The Home Depot or U-Haul®—an additional ink can be added by purchasing a Pantone ink or mixing inks to achieve a Pantone specification. The downside to offset, however, is the intense set-up procedure, which is often cost-prohibitive in today’s environment of short-run print jobs.
Inkjet wide format printers, like toner devices, may have the capability to add orange and green as manufacturer enhancements, providing greater depth than what CMYK-only can achieve.
Understanding each printing process’s limitations and potential can help set customer’s color expectations based on the device type and their budget for the job.
Fifth Station Printing: Expanding Color Possibilities
As mentioned above, some CMYK toner printers offer the ability to enhance color or add special effects to printed materials with “fifth station” printing. For example, Ricoh’s 5th Color Kit provides print businesses with many options to differentiate printed materials beyond the typical CMYK color production.
Here are a few ways you can recommend fifth station printing options to enhance your customers’ print products:
- Gold and silver metallic options for a foil stamping look for items such as yearbooks, diplomas or invitations.
- Neon yellow and neon pink for extra pop.
- White printed on clear substrate to create products such as window clings.
- UV red (visible only under ultraviolet light) for security measures to discourage reproduction of items such as concert tickets.
- Clear to add spot gloss for emphasis and a look similar to embossing.
Other options may vary by the device manufacturer, including additional orange and green inks as a gamut enhancement to increase the CMYK production color range.
Source File Settings: Creating a Cheat Sheet for Your Customers
No matter what type of printer a job is printed on, if the source file isn’t created, tagged and saved with the right color settings, your customer may be disappointed with the end result.
The most important step in communicating color accurately is to tag the file in order to define the desired colors.
You can take two different approaches to providing the essential information your customers need:
- Create a written guide to the correct color settings, or
- Create a default settings file for your customers’ business or design agency. Once your default settings are loaded into the design software, the designer can easily provide files that sync to your color settings.
When your customers tag their print files according to your specified printer and paper settings, the resulting colors will likely match their expectations
When your customers understand what to expect—and how to provide you with the most accurate source files possible—you can better meet those expectations, earning repeat business and creating a strong relationship as a valued partner. Staying one step ahead of customer expectations is a two-step process: assessing precisely what you can provide and then being a leader in showcasing the possibilities for your customers.
Ricoh Professional Color Management Services’ mantra is “We make it easy to get the color you want!”. Our team of Color Consultants and Color Subject Matter Experts can evaluate your current software and hardware solutions to determine what is possible with the equipment you have and where you can improve your workflow to find the best balance of quality and cost. Contact us to learn more or request a Ricoh color services assessment.
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