“Digital First” often means “Colour Problems Second!”

Recently, we have been receiving more and more colour management consulting enquiries where “digital first” designs reach their limits: Namely, always when, after a few months or years, the first trade fair appearance, the first annual report or the first catalogue in classic online printing is due. And it is precisely at this moment that it occurs to everyone involved that they do not even know how their “digital first” colour strategy is supposed to look in print. But let’s take a look at the problem from the beginning:

Digital First = First priority for digital online media. But what if it’s time to print?

Whether it’s a large global corporation or a small company, the following often applies to designs or redesigns today: we develop everything for digital first. Agencies therefore create RGB colour worlds for the new corporate design, often with crisp, saturated screen colours and strong pastel tones. And if colours are used for different products or communication lines, then a complete corporate colour world with many corporate design colours in RGB is created, presented and approved, the online presentation portfolio is launched and the company is presented digitally in a new corporate design light.

The whole thing works well at first, and everyone looks at it on their monitor and is satisfied. But then, after a year, the first trade fair and the first printed annual report arrive. All right, think agency and client, let’s take our “digital-first” colours and print them in offset in our annual report and in digital print on our trade fair wall and on posters. But by the time the first design draft comes out of the laser printer and the printer has printed the first pages of the catalogue, a colour hangover breakfast is in order.

  • “Oh no, that looks completely different from what I see online on my monitor.”
  • “The blue is kind of too purple now, isn’t it? Or is the purple now blue?”
  • “It kind of looked different and better in the presentation on the big screen TV, didn’t it?”
  • “The crisp ultramarine is quite washed out and pale on the uncoated paper…”
  • “Idea: If we print with PANTONE colours, it will be more colourful. But which ones?
  • ” For John, the PANTONE fan was a great match for the screen, but for Hannah it wasn’t at all.”
  • “And what, printing three PANTONE colours and CMYK costs a lot more?”

By now, at the latest, it is clear to all those involved that things are going to get difficult and that they have a lot of work ahead of them. Using a real-life example from the past, let’s assume: For more than 10 sRGB colour tones, matches for spot colours and CMYK for picture printing and uncoated paper have to be found quickly. This is where important questions arise:

  • Who decided the colour design based on what view a year ago?
  • Did they see the colours on the monitor? On the beamer? On the iPad? On the big-screen TV? Were the devices calibrated?
  • Is it to be printed with PANTONE or with CMYK or both? Coated? Uncoated?
  • “The printer was kind enough to select a PANTONE colour for all our shades.”
  • A PANTONE colour? For coated and uncoated? What did they base it on? And how did they determine the best matching PANTONE colour? By eye? Measurement? Calculation?

Proof.de makes ” Digital First” colour worlds printable.

Optimised CMYK implementation of spot colours as PANTONE, RAL, HKS, Oracal and more

We have been able to assist many clients in making decisions and converting “Digital First” sRGB online colour worlds into printable colours. This does not mean that we have been able to find optimal CMYK or PANTONE spot colour conversions for all online colours. But it does mean that we were able to determine good conversion values for all colours and, in the case of strong deviations, explain why these occurred and on the basis of which criteria we decided on the best of the bad conversions. How far was the original colour “out of gamut”? Are we better off going for the greatest possible colourfulness, or for the best possible brightness match, which is then perhaps less colourful? Can we use the same PANTONE spot colour for picture printing and uncoated paper, or do we use different colours for coated and uncoated?

We do not rely on mumbo jumbo for such colour consulting jobs, but on measuring, determining and calculating colour distances.

It is often easier to talk about colours when you talk about measurements rather than feelings. With a colour matrix, it is often possible to show what more or less cyan and magenta would look like in a colour mix. With a sample or a fan as a reference, it is easier to sample colours and better understand where the limitations of a CMYK conversion and colour space lie.

PANTONE to CMYK optimisation by Proof.de: Colour matrix for matching existing prints and colour templates such as PANTONE fans or coated references.
Pantone to CMYK optimization

In the end, we work with the customer to determine the best colour conversion for their application: If the layout is written in white on a colourful sRGB colour field, then it is probably more helpful to use a more saturated and therefore somewhat darker colour value, which increases the contrast and legibility of the white font to the colourful background. If, on the other hand, black is written on the surface, then it is often helpful to keep the brightness close to the sRGB or PANTONE original, and to do without “more” colourfulness. Do we define different PANTONE colours for coated and uncoated, or do we use only one colour for consistency and ease of communication? And for the same reasons, do we use the same CMYK values for image printing and uncoated paper, or different ones?

You need an sRGB to CMYK conversion? Talk to us.

If you have a need for a conversion of RGB colours from “Digital First” coproprate designs to CMYK, then please feel free to contact us at any time. We will advise and help you transparently and competently to achieve the best possible solution for you and with you.

Gamut map: The colour tool for cross-media design

Due to our involvement with freeColour e.V., at the last meeting in Switzerland the desire for a cross-media tool for designers was expressed with which one can create intersections of colourspaces from the freieFarbe CIELAB HLC Colour Atlas XL.

With Gamutmap, Proof GmbH has now created such a tool, which is available to all designers free of charge. With Gamutmap nearly 100 individual colour spaces can be indicated from 34.250 colours of the entire CIELAB colour space, or intersections from many combined colour spaces can be indicated.

An example: As a designer you are looking for colours for a new corporate design, which are available in sRGB for the internet, in ISOCoatedV2 for printing image brochures and in PSOUncoatedV3 for printing stationery. For video productions, the Rec.709 colour space is also to be taken into account.

In Gamutmap you can now easily select the colour spaces sRGB, ISOCoatedV2, PSOUncoatedV3 and Rec.709 and then click on “show”. After a few seconds you will only see the colours that are available in all selected colour spaces. If you move the mouse over a colour field, you will directly see the absolute colorimetric values of the colour in all selected colour spaces and you can copy them directly to your clipboard.

Since the hex value of the sRGB colour space was also still interesting, this colour space was additionally marked for display. The HLC and Lab values of all colours can be read directly in the colour table. All other colour values can be copied to the clipboard simply by moving the mouse to the desired colour field. For the colour field shown in the example above, it looks like this:

HLC: H005 | L055 | C035
Lab: 55 | 34,867 | 3,05
sRGB: 188 | 106 | 128
sRGB (HEX): #BC6A80
Rec. ITU-R BT.709-5: 188 | 87 | 115
ISO Coated V2 (ECI): 14 | 64 | 27 | 11
PSO Uncoated V3 (Fogra52): 10 | 70 | 34 | 8

Gamutmap is “Work in Progress”

We are sure that gamutmap will be a great help to many designers in creating cross-media corporate designs and are very happy that we were able to start and push the project with the members of freieFarbe e.V. For us, gamutmap is “work in progress”, which means: In the coming weeks we will add further functionalities and features to gamutmap. For example, a German version is in progress, and the download of spectral D50 CxF data of the selected colours should be possible in the future directly while hovering over the respective colour field, if the field is in the gamut of the freefarbe CIELAB HLC Colour Atlas XL. Further function extensions are already on our wish list… 🙂

We welcome suggestions, criticism, wishes and any support for the expansion and addition of Gamutmap.

How CMYK and RGB profiles are handled in proofing

When we receive a file from you, the first thing we check is whether there are colours other than CMYK in the file. If the file is built exclusively in CMYK, it will be sent directly for proofing.

Handling wrong profiles with CMYK data / “Profile Mismatch
If we have only received CMYK data from you, we will ignore all input and output profiles and only use the CMYK values that we bring to the ordered output colour space.

Example 1: Data in ISOCoated, proof in ISOCoatedV2 ordered, thus wrong or no CMYK profile embedded.

You send a file with the profile ISOCoated and a colour area in CMYK 100/70/0/0 and order a proof according to ISOCoatedV2.
We ignore the ISOCoated profile and proof the pure colour value 100/70/0/0 according to ISOCoatedV2.

Why do we do this?
In our proofs, we try to reproduce the “lived reality” of the print as well as possible. In many conversations with printers we have seen that in almost 100% of the cases they do not convert profiles from CMYK to CMYK, but instead put a colour value of 100/70/0/0 on the plate without taking CMYK profiles into account, insert paper and print in conformity with the standards. So we also map this way, although it would actually be “more correct” to perform a colour space transfer from ISOCoated 100/70/0/0 to ISOCoatedV2. However, this results in a different colour value, for example 100/63/1/6 for relatively colorimetric conversion with depth compensation or 100/63/3/15 perceptively with depth compensation!

In practice:

One of our customers did not proof 30 slightly different, dark blue colour areas in ISOCoatedV2 on our premises, but on the premises of a colleague, under each of which the CMYK value was in black lettering, in order to sample the colour of a powder-coated surface. The customer defined a very well fitting CMYK colour value on the basis of the proofed colour areas, inserted it into his brochures and started the print jobs. Result: The dark blue was a distinctly different blue than on the reference proof, customer and agency were very dissatisfied and went on troubleshooting. Now the case came to us.
We received a file for proofing according to ISOCoatedV2 and compared it with our colleague’s proof. The colours with the same black CMYK values printed underneath were clearly different, but both proofs were provided with media wedges and measured correctly. After some troubleshooting, we came up with the idea of requesting the original proof from our colleague, which also existed. In this one there was a Fogra27Coated profile, thus an implementation of the old ISOCoated. A proof according to ISOCoatedV2 had been ordered at that time. Had it happened? The colleague had taken the input profiles into account, which resulted in a significant change in the CMYK values of the colour patches, as mentioned above, due to a colour space transfer from CMYK to CMYK. The black printed CMYK values under the colour patches had of course not changed. The patterned CMYK value therefore did not correspond to the proofed value at all. Our customer fell from all clouds: “How, our CMYK values were not proofed”. This would not have happened with us, because we would ignore the embedded profile with CMYK data. In this case this would also have been our customer’s expectations.
After almost two hours, we had determined the “error” (or perhaps rather: the “difference”), created a proof for our customer that was “in line with expectations”, which he could use to determine the appropriate CMYK value in ISOCoatedV2, and solved the problem.

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Easy conversion of Pantone – HKS – CMYK – RGB with Adobe Photoshop

Color Selector - Adobe Photoshop

Farbbücher Auswahl in Adobe Photoshop CC: HKS, Pantone, CMYK und vieles mehr

More often the question arises as to what kind of Pantone colour corresponds to the HKS 43 K. Or what CMYK value? And what kind of web color in RGB?

If you own Adobe Photoshop, you can do these conversions directly there. In Photoshop CC all well-known color books are stored with values.

Let’s assume we are looking for the Pantone equivalent and the matching CMYK color of HKS 43 K.

1: Open the color palette in Adobe Photoshop and select HKS K as the book and then the color HKS 43 K. All well-known colour books are directly stored in Photoshop.

Farbauswahl von HKS 43 K im Buch HKS K in Adobe Photoshop CCThe color corresponds to a Lab value of 26/29/-79 and a CMYK value is already stored here. Simply select the book HKS K Process:

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Layout in RGB, print in CMYK. Problems?

Especially in larger companies today the layout in RGB is the rule rather than the exception. The advantages are obvious:

  • The layout takes place in a large, almost media-neutral color space
  • All Photoshop filters are available without restrictions
  • The process of color space conversion to CMYK is shifted to the production process as late as possible

In practice, however, there are two potential problems in particular.

Problem 1: CMYK conversion in the last step.
The catalogue is designed in InDesign, all data is perfectly matched, the last step before printing and proofing is the export to a printable PDF in CMYK. Usually this is done via a preset in InDesign, which defines the exact specifications for the color space conversion. In practice, however, this color space transfer can hardly be monitored. The problem: Even if you check the color values in Acrobat in the exported PDF file, for example, Acrobat does not really display the colors it contains. Acrobat brav would show you CMYK values even if the RGB images are still wrongly contained. However, other CMYK values can occur during printing when the data is processed again. Lately it looked like this:

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Why monitor and paper don’t get along when it comes to colour.

Colour is colour, you’d think. That’s right. But have you ever tried to explain the colour of your new car or your new red wallet to a friend on the phone? You will notice that human colour recognition and the reproduction of the same in another medium is very difficult.

The same applies to computers – better: monitors, and printers – i.e.: laser printers, inkjet printers or newspaper printing or offset brochure printing.

Why is the red on a monitor different from exactly the same red printed on paper? It’s simple: put the paper in front of the monitor. The two shades of red are exactly the same. Like this. And now you’re completely darkening the room. What do you see? The red on the monitor is still red. And exactly the same red on paper? This is black now. Why is that? Very simple:

A monitor adds light, i.e. spectral components, to the existing ambient light. If you see red on a monitor, it is because the monitor actively emits red light.

And now the paper: When do you see red on paper? Exactly when white light falls on the paper, for example through a window or a lamp. And when do you see the colour red on paper?

When white light falls on the paper and the paper extracts the non-red spectral components from the white light and reflects the red light. That’s when you see the colour red.

One colour, two completely different ways of production. And this is exactly where the colour calibration and the proof start. The strategy? Fairs. And this under fixed conditions and not with the human eye, but with “incorruptible” technology.

Put simply, a monitor calibration device can measure your monitor and see exactly “how much” colour your monitor can display, and “how wrong” your monitor can display colour. And if your computer knows that, it can correct the monitor.

Another measuring device can emit neutral white light onto a paper and measure the reflected colour. Depending on the printing process and paper, the ink looks completely different, but the meter again sees “how much” ink the print can represent and “how wrong” the print represents ink. And if your computer knows this, it can correct it. And:

If the computer knows the colour representation of the monitor and printer, it can correct and adjust the representation so that both correspond to the same colour. Of course, this only works if the colour and brightness of the light that illuminates the paper is also known and standardized.

And how does the proof work? Very simple:
If a computer also knows that the final printed product is to be printed in offset on an image printing paper, and it knows the colour representation of this printing process, then it can simulate this on a monitor and on an inkjet printer.

On the monitor, this colour-accurate representation is a so-called “soft proof”, the colour-accurate preview of the subsequent print on the inkjet printer is called “Proof” or “Contract Proof”.

This inkjet printing must be very precise and meet the highest demands in gamut and colour simulation. And since the image processing technology, colour matching calculation and measuring technology behind it is not very cheap, proofs are still mostly “expensive” inkjet prints. Due to new printing systems and inexpensive and better measuring technology, however, prices have also fallen significantly here in recent years.

Which RGB working colour space is suitable for colour-consistent work?

Comparison between eciRGB_V2 (white) and AdobeRGB 1998

In the early days of color spaces Apple and e.g. Photoshop up to version 5.5 set the monitor color space as working color space by default. But it soon became clear that a design office would be working with 10 Macs in 10 different color spaces. A neutral concept was needed.

There are many RGB Colour Spaces around. In the area of print media there are currently primarily three different variants: sRGB, AdobeRGB(1998) and eciRGB_V2.

The sRGB color space is widely used in digital cameras and is the industry leader in the consumer segment. Problem for printing: sRGB is a relatively small color space, and does not cover the color possibilities of modern offset printing systems and digital printers. Since offset printing profiles such as ISOCoated_v2 have a much larger color space, it makes little sense to perform retouching in sRGB.

From our point of view eciRGB_V2, a further development of eciRGB, is optimal. This color space has been specially created for use in the printing sector and offers some strengths:

  • It covers the colors of all modern printing color spaces (offset, gravure, web offset, newspaper), but is not much larger and therefore does not give away any resolution.
  • Equal shades of red, green and blue result in neutral shades of grey
  • Between 0/0/0 and 50/50/50 there is roughly the same distance as between 50/50/50 and 100/100/100.
  • The white is 5000 Kelvin and the gamma is 1.8 Kelvin.

The eciRGB_v2 color space can be downloaded free of charge from the pages of the European Color Initiative (ECI).

The AdobeRGB 1998 color space, which has been widely used by Adobe since Photoshop 5.5 and today in all parts of the Adobe product range, is also well suited for the printing sector, but works with a gamma of 2.2 and is designed for degrees of whiteness from D50 to D65. All common print color spaces can also be well mapped in AdobeRGB 1998. You can find Adobe documentation on this color space here.

 

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