When Color Matters: Tips for Specifying Colors

You're designing a new brochure, flyer, or newsletter and want to make sure it looks great. You're considering printing it full-color, but aren't sure if that's the best option to choose, considering your budgetary needs. Here are some tips to help you decide how many colors to use and how to make the most of the colors you choose.

When to use spot colors...
  • You only need one or two colors for the printed piece.

  • Your project doesn't include any full-color photos.

  • Your corporate colors need to be reproduced to exact specifications and cannot be reproduced faithfully enough by combining cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK)... the four "process" colors.

  • Your project calls for fluorescent, metallic, or other special inks.
When to use process color...
  • You need more than two colors.

  • Your piece includes full-color photos.

When to use both...
  • You want to enhance the colors by including a "bump" plate (an extra printing plate set up in one of the four process colors and meant to enhance that tone).

  • Your project includes full-color photos, but your logo or corporate colors don't reproduce well with process color inks.

  • Your project includes full-color photos and also requires metallic, fluorescent, or other special inks.

No matter what color combination you choose, there are some things you can do to ensure your project goes more smoothly. For example, as you're preparing your artwork, make sure you aren't "duplicating" any colors. Look through the color palette in your page layout software. Remove any duplicate colors you find, and reassign the corresponding objects and layers accordingly.

Also make sure you give your colors the same names in each application you use for the project. For example, make sure you give the color the same name in InDesign as you give it in Photoshop and Illustrator. This will help reduce confusion and ensure the colors separate properly when preparing the piece for print.

And finally, if you decide to go with process printing, use your design software to convert any spot colors you have to their CMYK equivalents. When doing so, double-check the values the software assigns, to ensure good printability. For example, if Photoshop gives a color a 1% magenta value, you might want to do some tweaking to eliminate the need for that value. We'll be happy to help you optimize your files for print and answer any questions you have while producing your files.

The Official Adobe Print Publishing Guide – Second Edition

by Brian P. Lawler

The key to successful print production is an understanding of the entire workflow, from scanning and file creation through prepress and print production. The Official Adobe Print Publishing Guide, Second Edition brings together the collective knowledge and wisdom of the experts at Adobe Systems in a simple, elegant presentation of the fundamental concepts and issues related to producing high-quality printed output.

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