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Colors in Advertising and Printing

By: Avinash Narula

Colors are an important element of any design. A dash of color adds life to any design. So one of the most important decisions that you will have to make while developing advertising and promotional material is what colours to use as well as the number of colors you would want to use in the design. This decision is important in terms of creative, image of the company and the available budget.

Now, at the very outset, let us understand the characteristics colors as they relate to the designing and printing of advertising and promotional material. There is a difference in how we think of colours in our daily life and how we think of colours while developing advertising and promotional material. Let us make mention of the four primary processing colors that go on to weave magic, creating just about any color when two or more such colors are mixed. More commonly known as CMYK, they are:

C - Cyan
M - Magenta
Y - Yellow
K - Black

What’s spectacular about these four colors is that virtually any color can be reproduced from a combination of these CMYK colours. As for instance, we tend to get green when we combine a certain amount of yellow with a certain amount of cyan, the proportions varying according to the particular shade of green required.

Mixing these four primary colors can present an array of different colors for you. So how do you get a new color? If you want to get red, all you have to do is to mix 100 percent magenta with 100 percent yellow. And presto! Your desired color will be there. And if you want a slight variation in red, just vary the percentage of the two primary colors. Further if you need a slightly darker red or maroon, just add a bit of black to the combination of yellow and magenta and you will get the color of your choice. Remember those good old days when you used to dabble with watercolors as a child? You sure will. Now try to recall that some colors were ready to use standard colors and some were made by your own creative imagination, mixing two or more colors together. However, in the case of printing and designing, all you can do is mix any two or more of the primary colors to make any color of your choice.

Special Colours

These CMYK or primary colors as they are also known, however have to face some roadblocks when it comes to the creation of ornamental colors such as gold, silver and bronze. These colors are therefore called special colors, and have to be printed separately too. I prefer to call these ornamental colors “pure special colors” as they cannot be made using the four primary colors. These colors fall on the expensive side too. So if you want to print advertising and promotional material with these pure special colors, think twice before doing so, for it will shoot up your budget.
Any color that reaches the paper on printing without going through color separations during the printing process is called a special color. We have already termed the ornamental colors as “pure special colors.” Any other color which can be made with the combination of CMYK colors, but is printed directly on the paper without going through color separation is what I call “artificial special color.” For instance, red color when it goes through color separation will give us 100 percent magenta and 100 percent yellow. However, we can also print red color on paper as “artificial special color.”

Let me substantiate this point by giving you an example. Suppose we want to print a red colored logo on a white paper. There are two possible ways of doing this. Firstly we could prepare a single color separation and print with an already mixed red color, that is, artificial special colour. The second option would be through the color separation method. Red is a mixture of magenta and yellow. In this case, we would have to make positives for the two primary colors, one for magenta and the other for yellow. The printing process, in this case will first print magenta and then yellow to finally produce the color that is being sought.

Why do we need to know about all this? Well, because this could help you avoid spilling your money. Printing the above job using red as an artificial special color may cost you less as compared to the color separation route. When printing red as an artificial special color, you will have to make only one positive as well as print only once. However, if we went about doing the color processing, we will have to make two positives and two plates, that is, one each for magenta and yellow color. In addition, we have to print twice, both for yellow and magenta color. The cost would naturally spiral up because of the additional positive, plate as well as an additional print run on the printing press.

One, two, three, four Colour Printing

Sometimes people fail to understand what one, two, three or four color printing means. They relate to this in terms of literally counting the number of colors in the print job. This is not true. Let us try to understand what one, two, three or four color printing is all about.

1. One color printing
One color printing refers to printing in just one color. This solitary color could either be a primary or a special color (artificial or pure). This is the least expensive of all the printing options available as practically everything is done just once. It doesn’t require much either. Just one set of positives, one set of plates and a one time printing on the printing machine. There are many examples of one color printing, say for instance the printing of the interior pages of a book in black color. Other than black, one can also opt for other colors such as dark blue or brown. But black is more frequently used as it is much cheaper compared to others. Printing one color is cheaper when you use a primary color as compared to using an artificial color. Also, printing an artificial special color is cheaper than printing a pure special color. A lot of people also tend to shy away from using artificial special colors because it is expensive. No wonder that black is being used most frequently while printing the inside pages of a book.

In one color printing, there is no such hard and fuss rule that the black color that is being used has to be 100 percent jet black. It could be 99 percent black, 98 percent black till 1 percent black. Though these shades of grey or screens of black may look like different colors to a lay person, but from the point of view of printing, it is considered one color. What this means is that I can print 100 different shades of black/grey by using different percentage screens of black and it would still be called one color printing. When you are printing a photograph of a person in black and white, you are using different screens of black to get the effect even though it is one color printing.

2. Two Color printing
Now let us turn our attention to two-color printing process. Simply put this type of printing is the printing of a material where combination of any two of the primary or special colours have been used. What turns out to be the cheapest option, though, is where any two primary colors are used. Now let us have a glimpse of the number of colors that one gets to see when two primary colors, magenta and yellow are used. Firstly we get to see 100 percent magenta and different tints of magenta (be it 99 percent magenta, 98 percent magenta till 1 percent magenta). In a likewise manner, we see 100 percent yellow and tints of yellow too. It is like wading through a sea of colors when different percentages of magenta and yellow are used. Secondly, when we mix 100 percent magenta with 100 percent yellow , we get the color that stands for danger and action…yes you guessed it right…red. Besides this we can see different shades when we mix magenta and yellow in different proportions (100 percent magenta with 99 percent yellow, 100 percent magenta with 98 percent yellow and so on and so forth). Some designers are not too comfortable working with two color designs, but this does not mean that your hands are tied and interesting designs cannot be created using two colors. We have created a number of designs using just two colours which has won us kudos from our clients.

Most people make the mistake of thinking that in a two color printing, one can see only two colors…this is but as false as a mirage! Actually, to a layman a two colour design can look as if its a four colour design because of the variety of different colours that can be generated by using just two primary colours. You can generate a number of different colors as explained above and the printed work can look quite colorful too. Plus also it comes with the advantage of being less expensive.

3. Three Color printing
What about three-color printing? Well, it’s said that if you’re going to use three-colors, you might as well go for four-color process printing. Reason being that you will not get much of a waiver if you go for a three-color process printing instead of a four-colored one, as the difference will hardly be much. However, I have come across cases where we have designed a piece, which was accepted by the client, and it turned out to be a three color job when we did the processing. Again, I might clarify that a three color job just involves printing with three primary colors but the number of colors you see on the job can be quite large taking the permutation and combination of mixing the three colors in a variety of different proportions as we did in the case of two color printing.

I think it might be useful to add another color to the above combination of red and yellow color. Let us add the color black to the above mentioned combination. As mentioned above, we generated the following different colours when we used two colours:

(a) Yellow and its different shades
(b) Magenta and its different shades
(c) Colors generated by mixing just yellow and magenta in different permutation and combinations.

We will be able to generate additional colors apart from the above when we add black as follows:

(a) Black and its different shades.
(b) Colors generated by mixing just yellow and black in different permutation and combinations.
(c) Colors generated by mixing just magenta and black in different permutation and combination.
(d) Colors generated by mixing all three - yellow, magenta and black - in different permutation and combination.

One additional color printing will generate a tremendous number of different colors on the paper.

4. Four color printing
Now for four-color process printing. This type of printing is used to reproduce full color photography or illustration. The separation process in this case results in four pieces of film, one for each color - yellow, magenta, cyan and black. These colors work like magic as just about any color can be reproduced from combinations of two or more of these four colors as well as different shades of the four primary colors. Additional colours that would be generated by adding the fourth colour are as follows:

(a) Cyan and it different shades
(b) Colors generated by mixing just yellow and cyan in different permutation and combinations.
(c) Colors generated by mixing just magenta and cyan in different permutation and combinations.
(c) Colors generated by mixing just black and cyan in different permutation and combinations.
(d) Colors generated by mixing all the four primary colours in different permutation and combinations.

Literally a galaxy of different colors are generated. The number of different colours generated are numerous.

While printing, each color is printed as tiny dots. Because they are so small, the eye visually mixes all the colors to reproduce all the different colors that we see. The color separation process separates the design into one or more of the four primary colors through different color filters. After color separation, positives are made for each of the primary colors. The positive images are combined in the printing process to produce full color images. Black is usually the last color to be printed.

5. More than 4 color printing
Certain special designs, however, necessitates the use of colors like gold, silver and bronze, apart from colored photographs. In this case, apart from the primary four colors, each of these special ornamental colors will be counted as a special color. These special colors are not only expensive by themselves but also raises the cost further as extra cost is involved in extra print run, positives and plates too.

How to specify colours?
Designers and printers used to select colors from a Pantone Matching System (PMS) book. The Pantone Matching System is a universal color system that is standard throughout the industry all over the globe. When you specify a certain PMS number, say PMS 185 which is a shade of red, your printer will know exactly what formula the inkmaker should mix. You can create variations with even one color by specifying tints which are screens of PMS colors. For example, if you were doing a one-color job in red, you could use a 10% screen of a PMS 185 to create a light red or pink.

However, with the increasing use of computers increasingly colours are being specified in terms of CMYK combination. For instance, if you want your logo to be printed in the same colour anywhere in the world, all you need to do is specify the CMYK combination. While designing advertising and promotional material, the designer will incorporate the CMYK combination in the logo design. We use a specific blue and red colour in our logo. The CMYK combination of blue is M=80, C=100 and that of red colour is C=100, Y=100. By specifying these CMYK combinations we can avoid variations in the colour of our logo irrespective of where it is printed. Knowing the color combination makes the work much more easier as you simply have to tell the designer to use the same while designing. Most companies either specify the CMYK composition of the colors of their logos or the PMS number.

With the advent of computers, our lives have undoubtedly become very easy. It is now possible for you to make different colors on the screen by mixing these four primary colors. You can experiment with different permutation and combination of the primary colors. Once the design is made, the electronic file is sent to the processing house for separation and making of the positives and proofing.

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