Color Matching in Book Manufacturing

book printingMatching colors from one printed work to the next can be a challenge.  Numerous factors contribute to why it is difficult to do this.  Some of the main culprits are the differences in output of  offset vs. digital printing presses and the various color systems that are used to produce images and graphics on paper.  This post will highlight some reasons why color matching can be difficult as well as some tips to help you understand what to expect.

Digital vs. Offset Printing Methods

One scenario where color matching is a challenge is when a book is re-printed using different equipment than before.  For example offset printing methods are much different than digital printing methods.  The offset process uses aluminum printing plates that transfer ink to a rubber blanket which in turn presses ink onto paper.  Digital presses use a laser process to image a transfer belt or cylinder which then transfers ink or toner from the machine to paper.  This electrophotographic method can cause the same mixture of CMYK or Pantone SPOT colors to appear slightly different than that of a traditional offset printing press.

Pantone vs. CMYK Builds

Regardless of what machine paper is printed on (offset or digital), recreating colors from the popular Pantone color process using a 4 color or CMYK process can be hit or miss.  Pantone colors are inks mixed as one solid color no matter whom or what is printing them.  During the CMYK process, layers of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and black are laid down over each other, a technique known as trapping.  In order to recreate a Pantone color using CMYK, a match must be built using some combination of CMYK.  Variations in press calibration and experience of the operators can also affect the final color.   Some Pantone colors can be closely simulated using CMYK but the reverse is not true.

Why Not Use The Same Process As Before?

Numerous factors contribute to why one might use a CMYK process over a Pantone one and vis versa. The CMYK process is better for images that don’t have distinct areas of solid colors such as photographs.  Pantone colors are great for printing things like logos or images where there are many colors to reproduce.  A printer may be reprinting a book produced by some other business that used a different process in which case the previous color may be difficult to reproduce.

Tips for knowing what to expect

All printers and manufacturers in the publishing industry deal with the same kinds of color matching issues.  By arming yourself with a little knowledge beforehand, you will be able to set reasonable expectations for your print job.

  1. If your print job has Pantone colors that must be recreated using a CMYK build, ask for a digitally imaged cover proof.  This will enable you to see how the color will actually look on your finished books.  Avoid looking at color proofs on a computer screen as this adds one more level of variation due to the fact that computer displays use a combination of red, green and blue to create colors onscreen.
  2. Use a Pantone color book to reference CMYK builds.  Pantone makes very informative color books that allow people to see what solid colors will look like as CMYK builds.  This is not a fool proof method by any means but it can give you an idea of what to expect.
  3. Have your books printed with a reputable and experienced printer.  While all printers face the same challenges when it comes to color matching, there are different degrees of experience.  If you take your job to a printer who has less experienced operators and obsolete or poorly maintained equipment, your results will not be optimal.  Of course it can be difficult, especially for novices to determine if the printer you are using is good so get references from others who have had a good experience.

Edwards Brothers Malloy has over a century of book manufacturing experience.  If you have questions about color matching our knowledgeable customer service representatives can help.

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