Printing & Design Tips: AUGUST 2009, Issue #97

Matching Color

Entire books have been written on the subject of matching color. However, for now I’d like to throw out a few general rules to help start your discussion with your printer.

First of all, don’t choose color on your monitor. Color on a monitor is made up of red, green, and blue phosphors (light). Ink color, on the other hand, is made up of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink. The colors within the realm of light do not match the colors within the realm of ink.

That said, there are exceptions to every rule. If you can (rigidly) control the lighting conditions under which you observe color on the monitor, and if you have the money for color calibration software, you might be the exception, and you might come closer than most people to actually matching your monitor colors to the final printed colors. You would also need the time to calibrate your monitor on a regular basis. Color management from monitor to ink-jet proofer to offset press is possible with today’s technology. I just wouldn’t advise it unless you have a lot of extra time and money.

Instead, choose color using printed ink samples. Pantone color swatch books can be purchased online, and in graphic design and art supply stores. Sometimes they can be obtained for free from your printer. Some of these books show you the Pantone colors (PMS colors) next to their closest process color match. And they will probably even show you the percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black that you will need to convey to your printer to reproduce these colors.

To be safe, provide a printed sample showing the exact color you want. If it’s a PMS swatch or process match swatch, or if it’s just a printed sample you’d like to match, the safest way to communicate color is with a physical example of the color.

This is particularly appropriate if you are trying to match the colors in a corporate logo. In this case it would be a catastrophe if the colors on the printed sheet didn’t match your company’s chosen logo colors exactly. Therefore, your printer can take the samples provided and read them with a color spectrophotometer. This device will analyze the hue (rather than the density, which is what a densitometer reads) and break the color down into its component percentages of C, M, Y, and K. Your offset printer can then advise you as to the proper percentages to enter into your image editing, drawing, or page composition art files. Once you have updated your art files with this color information, they will yield the color builds you want and expect, and there should not be any surprises with the final printed job.

In addition, your printer may advise you to add one or two PMS colors and avoid a color build altogether. If your printer is using a six-color press to print your four-color job, and if the fidelity of the logo colors is crucial, your several hundred dollar expenditure (more or less) to add PMS inks to the two unused units on the press might be a wise allocation of funds. After all, color does vary a bit throughout a 4-color press run—unless you substitute PMS match inks for the crucial process color builds.

One final thing to remember is that a color spectrophotometer is expensive and not every printer has one. So ask first. But in general, your printer is your best ally in matching color, and presenting him with a printed sample you like makes his job much, much easier.

Where Do You Insert a Bind-In Card?

So you want to add a bind-in card to your magazine. Where do you put it? What are your options?

First of all, note whether your publication is perfect-bound or saddle stitched. You can add a bind-in card in either case, but you have different rules to consider, so this is a good starting place.

In a saddle-stitched book, the signatures are nested (one inside the other). You add bind-in cards between signatures and you must have some part of the card on either side of the stitches (low-folio side and high-folio side, front of the book and back of the book). That is, in a 40-page saddle stitched book, for instance, you may have one side of the bind-in card visible between pages 8 and 9 or 12 and 13 (assuming a 16-page signature nested in an 8-page signature nested in a 16-page signature). The other side of the card would be visible between pages 28 and 29 or 32 and 33 (low-folio/high-folio, front and back of the book). Either the low-folio side of the card or the high-folio side of the card can be a full-size business reply card, or it can be a hinge (a little stub, maybe 2” or 3” long, which allows the card to sit on the saddle-stitching conveyor during binding—a portion of the card draped over either side of the “saddle”--and not fall off before it can be inserted and bound into the saddle-stitched book).

In a perfect-bound book, you also need to add the bind-in card between signatures. However, since perfect-bound signatures are stacked (one atop the other) rather than nested (one inside the other), you don’t need to have a corresponding portion of the card sticking out on the opposite side of the signature. You can just add the card between signatures, and the hot-melt glue used in perfect binding will hold the bind-in card firmly against the spine of the book.

[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.]