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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven 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.

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Brochure Printing: Paper Color Affects the Ink Color

We all learn from our mistakes. In an ideal world, we may even learn from the mistakes of others and then not make our own.

In this light, I want to tell you a story about choosing paper for a brochure print job I designed about twenty years ago. My boss, the Director of Publications, suggested that I print the brochure on a warm coated custom printing stock to differentiate it from other marketing materials we had been circulating. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Pitfalls of the Paper Selection

I learned several things from the completed brochure print job that was delivered.

First of all, I had made the assumption that the cream tint of the paper would affect the color of the inks. It did. Since I had made this assumption early, I had had the foresight to check the colors on my computer monitor using a cream tint for the background of the entire print brochure. This had given me somewhat of an idea of the final outcome.

However, it only gave me a sense of how the ink colors of the text and images would look when surrounded by a cream background. I had not taken into consideration that the paper would affect the color of the ink actually printed on it. More specifically, the color of the substrate slightly affected the red and blue PMS hues that were the corporate colors of the logo. This was less than ideal. The substrate also altered the final appearance of the process color work.

Finally, when I saw how the final brochure print job looked beside the other collateral produced during the year, it did stand out. But I wasn’t sure I liked that. The difference in the paper colors between the new brochure and the other marketing materials made the new job look like it had been designed by another company. This wasn’t great either.

Fortunately, my boss, the Director of Publications, actually liked the brochure so I walked away from the job without losing face, but more importantly I took away some lessons that I have remembered and applied for the succeeding two decades.

Lessons Learned (or What You Might Keep in Mind When Printing on a Yellow-Tinted Paper)

Consider the following when you diverge from the norm by specifying a custom printing stock that’s different from the paper used in prior jobs for your company:

  1. Process inks are transparent. The color of the substrate will alter the color of the ink.
  2. The only way to know for sure how this will look is to request a press proof. This is incredibly expensive. Basically, you are setting up the entire press to print one copy of your job to see how it will look.
  3. Alternatives to a press proof include producing a digital print on the off-white (or any other color) custom printing stock. It will not be absolutely faithful to the end product (digital toners don’t behave exactly like offset inks), but it will be affordable. You may also want to tint the background of your file (for observation on your computer monitor only). Keep in mind that this will only approximate the look of the ink colors when surrounded by the toned paper substrate. It will not show you how the (potentially transparent) inks will behave on the colored stock. (Remember to change the background back to white before sending the job to the printer.)
  4. While process inks are transparent (i.e., you will see the color of the paper through them, and the color of the paper will alter the color of the ink), PMS colors are less dramatically affected, since some of them are not transparent.
  5. You can get around the problem of the paper changing the color of the ink (to a certain extent) by having the commercial printing supplier include opaque white in the PMS ink mixture.
  6. You can also get around the problem of the paper changing the color of the ink by using white paper and only simulating the yellowish tones of the cream printing stock. You can do this by printing the background in a tint of light yellow (or another color, depending on the results you want). This way you can knock out the yellow behind any type, process color images, tints, and/or solids.
  7. You can also get around the problem of the paper changing the color of the ink by using colored foils instead of ink (let’s say you’re printing on a really dark paper). The one downside is that you will need to have a die created for the foil stamping, and this will be expensive and time consuming.
  8. Consider designing a year’s worth of marketing collateral at one time. I realize this is impractical. You won’t have the copy for all the publications at one time. However, you can start to create an overall “look” of the booklet and brochure covers, the type and color choices, the paper colors, and textures. Things will look like they go together and represent the same company if you approach their design as a unified whole.

Learn from my mistakes. Ouch.

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