Printing on Colored Paper
The least complicated choice
to accommodate any design challenge is to print on a white
coated or uncoated sheet. You pretty much know
what you’ll get. But this may not always be the most
creative, inspired choice. Sometimes you can create a spectacular
piece if you choose a colored paper stock.
If you do choose to venture into uncharted
waters and print on a colored sheet (which in most cases
will be an uncoated sheet), what decisions must you make
and what considerations must you address to produce a successful
- First, keep in mind that the
four process inks -- CMY, and K* -- are transparent.
Therefore, the color of the substrate will alter the color
of the printing ink. Images printed on a cream stock, for
instance, will have a warmer feel because of the preponderance
of yellow in the paper. This could make flesh tones appear
jaundiced, so yellow needs to be taken out of the mid-tones
to compensate, prior to printing.
- Alternately, images printed on a bluish-white
sheet will have less contrast and may appear a bit grey.
- In addition, the darker the color of
the paper, the more the color of the stock will influence
the color of the images.
- And if you’re printing on an
uncoated, colored sheet, you have to worry about dot gain,
because the ink will seep into the paper fibers and the
halftone dots will spread.
With all these reasons not to print
on colored paper, how can you control the outcome of this
unique design decision.
First, you can ask for samples
of the inks (process and PMS) on the stock you have chosen.
This is called a drawdown (flat ink rolled down onto the
paper). It will show you solid coverage on the paper but
it will not show you how 4-color images (or anything else
involving screens) will look.
Your second choice is to have
your printer add some of your uncoated, colored paper at
the end of a similar press run for another client.
Let’s say another client is printing 4-color images
or the same PMS you’re planning to use on a white
gloss sheet. Your printer adds some of your paper at the
end of the run, and you see how a similar job would look
on your paper of choice. (This will also help you see to
what extent you will have to alter the flesh tones or other
A similar, but far more expensive,
choice would be to request a press proof. That
is, you would print a proof of your job on a smaller proof-press
using your paper. Then you would make color adjustments
to your electronic files. After this you would print the
entire press run on a full-size press.
Or you could avoid offset altogether
in proofing your job. You could find a printer with a digital
press and request a few sheets digitally printed from your
job files on your paper. It wouldn’t look
exactly the same as offset (usually it will be produced
with toner rather than ink on paper), but it will give you
a reasonable idea of what to expect. This would cost $50.00
to $100.00 at most for a number of pages of your job, and
it would be well worth the cost. (You could print all pages
with color photos, for instance.)
This information is helpful, perhaps.
However, is there any way you can minimize the effect
of the colored stock on the color of your images?
In short, the answer is yes, but it’s
complicated and it will require close communication with
your print provider.
Opaque white, unlike the four
process colors, is not transparent. Your printer
can lay down two “hits” of opaque white in selected
areas where your color photos will be, let the printed sheets
dry, and then print your 4-color images and type in a second
pass. The white will act as a barrier and will keep the
paper beneath the images from altering the color of the
transparent process inks. Keep in mind that this can become
an expensive option, although it will keep your colors brilliant
and intense, especially when you’re printing on a
darker stock. (For maximum contrast, it is best to avoid
wet-trapping—printing the opaque color in-line with
the process colors.) Your print provider should wait for
the opaque color to dry prior to printing the images and
It’s always prudent to
involve your print provider early in any challenging printing
situation, but in this case it really is essential. You
need to be able to convey to your printer exactly the effect
you’re looking for (show him printed samples that
you like). You need to know he can alter your art files
as needed to avoid odd color shifts in flesh tones or other
memory colors. In short, it is important for him to have
“done this before.” Otherwise you could be courting
M=Magenta Y=Yellow K=Black)
[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]