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Colour Consistency – Holy Grail or Fools Gold?

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Achieving consistent colour across a range of documents and media can be something of a holy grail for some. As part of a brand, colours are chosen very carefully as they can communicate much about an organisation and subconsciously appeal to different market sectors. It can be a very precise science.

A brand identity will be communicated in many ways across many different substrates and media. Is it realistic to expect that colour will be identical across the board? Let’s have a look at why this might not be quite as easy as you think.

Brand colours will, without exception, have been created with either print or web in mind and will therefore conform to either the Pantone (spot and/or process) colour model or the RGB colour space. Immediately we have our first problem as the two are very different. Calibration of output devices and monitors can help match colour across the two but, in the case of monitors, you can’t calibrate the worlds computer screens so your brand colour will look different on different screens and that’s not even taking into account mobile devices. So even if you never print a thing, it would be impossible to achieve colour that matches precisely across the board. And print brings even more problems.

As mentioned previously, colours will have been assigned as either spot (where ink or toner is specifically mixed to achieve an exact colour) or process (where a colour is created through a mix of the 4 process colours: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, often referred to as CMYK) colour.

Often a spot colour will be reproduced as a process colour by mixing CMYK in appropriate quantities as specified by the world standard Pantone Matching System (PMS). It won’t look the same!

There are also different print production methods to consider such as digital, litho and screen. All use different substances to reproduce colour such as ink and toner and there are different kinds of ink for the digital, litho and screen processes. They all look different and while a relatively accurate match can be achieved across all print processes, there will still be subtle differences.

We also have to take the substrate into consideration. Different types of paper, shades of paper and even thickness of paper will affect the appearance of the colour that is printed upon it. So you could use the same ink on 2 different types of paper and the colour will look different if you line them up alongside each other. In some cases these differences can be quite marked and no amount of device calibration can do anything about it.

And that kind of brings me to my point (at last I hear you cry). Are we really expecting our target audience to gather numerous pieces of our branded print and line them up together to see if our colour matches? Or place our business card on the screen of their smart phone while displaying our website? And perhaps most importantly, are they any less likely to purchase from us or follow our call to action if they find that the colour on our brochure is a shade lighter than that on our flyer?

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