Have you ever wondered why the colors of your final prints often differ from the colors of your digital file? Wouldn’t you like to retain the same colors from the beginning of the production process to the end? This article should help you get to the bottom of your color-related issues.

Picture this scenario: you design a fabulous print ad for your newly-launched marketing campaign. All the colors look bright and vibrant on your screen, perfectly capturing your brand’s energy and excitement.

You run a few prints and get final approval from the higher-ups, after which you send the file to the printers. After a few days, you eagerly take delivery and unwrap the magazine containing your ad.

At this point, your excitement quickly turns to dismay when you realize that your colors are off. Way off. Your deep and rich oranges now seem closer to peach pink, your greens look dull and decidedly unexciting, and everything just isn’t as vibrant as you’ve envisioned. What gives?

Color Changes Between Digital Files And The Final Product

If the above scenario seems familiar, that’s because it has played out in production studios and ad agencies the world over since print production was a thing.

The fact is, despite the maturity of the craft, many things can still go wrong when you have a digital file printed on a physical medium. As you may have realized yourself, some of these things have to do with color reproduction.

Why is there often such a disparity between how your digital file and the printed product looks? Frequently, it’s because there is a significant difference in how colors are produced on-screen and in print.

Consider also that different viewing devices have different display characteristics. There is often some disparity between the colors on your computer monitor or mobile device. This could make it difficult to determine the actual color when working on a digital file.

The paper you print on will also have a significant effect on color reproduction. Any color on the paper will affect the ink placed on it. This is why the majority of print jobs are done on white paper. Although the whiteness can still affect the outcome, the color shift with white paper usually isn’t as drastic as it is with other colored paper.

What You Can Do To Minimize Color Shifts

The good news is that there are some things you can do to reduce the discrepancies that may occur between digital files and prints. Here are some helpful suggestions:

Allow Time For Revisions

Don’t assume that everything will go as planned. Always allow plenty of time for revisions, which would typically take place just before printing the final run.

Make sure that the printer has sufficient time to implement your edits and correction. The more complex the project, the more time you should allow for revisions. 

Become Familiar With The Material

Try to become familiar with the qualities of the medium you will be printing on. Whether it is paper, cardboard, or some other material, you need to know how it will react to the color being applied to it.

White paper is generally the ‘safest’ to print on, as it will reproduce your colors fairly accurately. If you use paper with a cream or ivory tint, make sure to compensate for it by reducing the amount of yellow in each color you use. This will help minimize color shifts between the digital rendering and the final print.

Know What The Equipment Is Capable Of

Try to learn about the capabilities of the printing equipment. This could be useful when producing final prints on your printer or having a commercial print shop do the job for you.

If you own a printer, you will probably become familiar with its quirks and characteristics sooner or later. You will know if it prints darker or lighter than expected or if colors tend to come out saturated or washed out. You could then compensate for these characteristics when creating your file.

If you are going with a commercial printer, ask if there’s something you need to know about the equipment. A reputable printing company should be able to give suggestions on how you could minimize or eliminate color discrepancies.

Make Or Request A Proof

Finally, always create a test print or ask the printer to provide a proof. This will give you a better idea of how the final product will look so you can make adjustments if necessary.

Printing isn’t exactly a perfect science. But knowing the characteristics of the medium and materials should help you maintain color consistency throughout the production process.