Most marketers expect print vendors to produce your brand colors accurately and consistently. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and when your printer doesn’t provide color management, it can hurt your brand and your bottom line.
Color management is a crucial service, and it begins with an understanding between you and your printer about what your color expectations are.
Printers may say they do color management. But how do you know it’s not just lip service?
It starts by understanding the basics of color management. In this post, we’ll provide you with an overview so you can ensure your printer is keeping your brand colors accurate and consistent. You’ll learn:
- What is color management?
- Why is color management important?
- How does a printer provide color management?
- How does a printer show that color management is a priority?
- Why should color management be a big deal to your printer’s entire staff?
What is color management?
Color management is what a printer does to accurately reproduce your brand colors across all print media. It requires thoroughly understanding your brand colors and logo, includes procedures to verify accurate color output, and involves adhering to industry standards for color accuracy.
Why is color management important?
Your clings and brochures, banners and flyers, labels and signage—all of these require different devices, substrates, and print processes when they’re produced. Unfortunately, that can lead to inconsistent colors across your print assets.
In fact, significant color variation can even occur within the same item. For example, Thysse once had a customer whose previous printer was producing inconsistent package colors. How did they find out? They went to a big-box store and saw that their red brand color varied widely from one package to the next.
“The customer not only viewed that as a poor representation of their brand. They viewed it as a loss in revenue. When people see inconsistent packaging, it can negatively affect their perception of a product,” says Thysse’s Ole Allen, Research & Development, Prepress Specialist.
That’s just one glimpse of why color management is crucial. Without it, you’re at much greater risk for:
- Inconsistent representation of your brand, which can cheapen your image.
- More color mistakes and last-minute corrections (if mistakes get caught).
- Print delays and lost revenue.
How does a printer provide color management?
The following methods are typically employed by printers who take color management seriously. Note that their uses will vary based on print vendor protocol, customer expectations, and project complexity.
By using procedures and tools to verify colors
To verify the color accuracy of your printed items, at a minimum you want printer staff with a trained eye to compare your printed items’ colors with the standard they’re being held to.
Note that color accuracy verification can also involve a scientific process requiring high-end equipment and a high degree of print color sophistication—for both the vendor and customer.
For example, a printer may use an instrument called a spectrophotometer to check a color’s accuracy. A printed color control strip is inserted in the spectrophotometer to derive its Delta-E, a metric indicating how close the color is to the established standard. In this scenario, the printer and customer agree on acceptable color tolerance levels.
Do you need to understand print colors at this advanced level to have reliable color reproduction? No. You should, however, be confident that your printer adheres to formal standards.
By printing to methodology standards
The print industry has established standards for superior color performance. For example, G7 is an industry-recognized methodology that printers can adhere to “for achieving visual similarity across all print processes.” (Source.)
Printers who adhere to standards like G7 frequently calibrate all of their printing devices so they meet color standard outputs.
On the other hand, some printers don’t print to any formal standards. As a result, they will have variances across all of their equipment. This creates a greater likelihood for color inaccuracy and inconsistency.
“Given how color so radically increases brand identification (which, in turn, can boost sales and engagement), it’s crucial that color remain consistent across all expressions of the brand,” writes Janet Odgis, president of Odgis + Co, an award-winning branding firm in New York City.
See more on the importance of color consistency below.
By color-managing your files
When color management is integral to your printer’s process, they won’t just hit print when you send files. Instead, print production specialists will examine your files to confirm that they’re set up correctly from the outset.
And when your printer catches color problems in your files early, it can help:
- Avoid expensive reprints.
- Give you (or your printer) a chance to truly remedy file problems rather than be forced to make quick-fixes in a rush.
- Keep you on track for achieving speed-to-market goals.
By including a color control strip
According to Thysse’s Ole Allen, if you want one good indicator that your printer takes color management seriously, look for a color control strip.
“When you ask for a production proof,” says Allen, “it should have a color control strip on the bottom. That’s the tool in place to prove the accuracy. Without that, it’s just a ‘Here you go!’ There’s no accountability behind it, and the printer likely doesn’t take color management seriously.”
How does a printer show that color management is a priority?
When your printer asks numerous color-related questions up front—before anything ever goes to print—it shows that consistent, accurate brand color reproduction is a priority.
“Some print vendors may actually be afraid of having open conversations about your color expectations. In essence, they’re hoping they can print your files and the results will be good enough,” says Mark Traver, a business development specialist at Thysse with almost 40 years of print industry experience.
Traver says to look for a printer who makes it clear they want to have a thorough conversation about your color expectations. That means from the get-go they should be asking you questions like:
- What are the color standards or branding guidelines we need to adhere to?
- What do you expect from the files that you give us?
- Are we matching to a previously printed sample or contract proof?
- Are we matching to a pantone color?
- Do you have specific logo concerns?
- What kinds of color issues have you encountered in the past?
Why should color management be a big deal to your printer’s entire staff?
Color management shouldn’t just be the concern of a few people. The printing process has multiple points for potential error. That’s why color management should be on the minds of every one of your print vendor’s staff.
That doesn’t mean they all need to be print color Einsteins. But it does mean that staff members—from sales and customer service to production and fulfillment—should have training on the value of color management.
And there are real-world customer benefits to this. For example, with a sales rep schooled in color management, you have one more vigilant professional who understands your color expectations—and who’s looking at your printed colors to make sure they’re good to go.
Next steps: Enact color management with your printer
If your printer is employing color management techniques like those above, that’s great. But if you don’t know, here are your next steps:
- Set up a meeting with your printer to discuss color management.
- Review your color standards together.
- Ask about their color management process.
- Establish your expectations with help from the points made above.
Ultimately, you want a printer who takes color concerns off your plate and helps ensure your brand colors are everything you want them to be.
That’s really what color management is all about.