Printing & Design Tips: MAY 2006, #58

Printing Colored Inks on Colored Paper

When you design a brochure or other project to be printed on colored paper, you need to consider the following.

Many printing inks are transparent. If your job is to be printed in process colors, the ink will definitely be transparent. Therefore, your final printed product will not look like the image on your color monitor. The color of the paper will affect how the color of the ink actually appears. If you are not aware of this, you may be in for a big surprise. For example, you may want to print a process color photograph on a cream stock. It seems that most of the paper stocks are different colors of cream. Often, very white paper stock has to be specially ordered which is more time consuming and more expensive. On the cream colored stock, the yellow tones of the paper will shift the colors in the photograph, and you may or may not like the result. A blue sky for example might have a greenish cast. How can you avoid this? You have a few options.

First of all, if you want a cream background but you don’t want the photos affected by the cream tint of the sheet, you can print the job on a white press sheet and then paint the sheet--excluding the process color photographs--with a cream screen also made with process inks. The benefit of this option is that the printing sheet behind the photographs would be white and therefore would not alter the color of the photos, and the rest of the sheet would appear to be a cream tint.

Another option would be to paint the sheet behind the photographs with opaque white. This would seal the paper fibers and provide a white background or “base” for the photographs. In essence, you would get the same effect described above. However, all paper except where the photos are printed will have the texture and color of the actual cream-colored stock.

Your third option, which would be far less predictable, would be to give your offset print provider a sample similar to your job and ask him to match the effect and colors. This option could be problematic since it would give you less control and since your proof, provided on white paper stock in most cases, probably would not be an accurate model of your finished piece. Your printer would also probably need to adjust your photos a bit after you have submitted the job, and this might be expensive. The success of this option would depend exclusively on the skill of your printer and your ability to communicate the effect you desire.

In terms of price, the first option (printing on white paper stock and laying down a screen for the background) probably would be the cheapest and most controllable. Laying down opaque white behind the photos would probably be the most expensive option, although it would still be controllable. Having your printer alter the photos within the art files in an attempt to match a sample printed piece would be the least controllable option, and the system time in prepress, potential multiple proofing cycles, and press checks to make sure you like the color could easily become very expensive.

[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.]