Color systems, in brief

June 23 2014

Ever wonder why that blue on your monitor prints darker on your printer?
Here’s the basic why ….

The two typical color systems are RGB and CMYK (you’ve heard these used a lot).

RGB (red, green, and blue) is the type of color system used for light; it is an ADDITIVE system, so when you add them all together, you get WHITE.

CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) is the type of color system used for basic printing; it is a SUBTRACTIVE color system, so the absence of color gives you WHITE (or paper, in this case). The use of high percentages of CMYK is called “rich black” (its a deeper black than just using 100% K. And yes, black is “K” -- not to be confused with blue, which is “B”).

The reason your print doesn’t look like your screen is because you can’t produce all the same colors from CMYK that you can from RGB. In the spectrum of color you can see, RGB gives you the most options, then the Pantone system (we’ll discuss this in a minute), and then the most limiting, CMYK. You’ll notice blues and greens print the worst … you’re hitting the limits of CMYK. (Google “color gamut” and you can see what I’m talking about.)

As I mentioned, there is also the Pantone Matching System (or PMS for short.) All designers will have what will look to you like a paint sample book on their desk; it’s actually a Pantone swatch book. Pantone colors are proprietary and widely used to choose a “spot color.” They are pre-mixed colors that will consistently be *that* color, 187C is always a dark red.

A designer will often use this book to pick colors for logos because the color translated on screen or from a CMYK printer won’t match the actual PMS sample. Also, think about your printer and my printer. The type of ink, or paper -- it will change how the color looks. Your monitor might not be color corrected like mine, and a website will look different from a monitor to a TV set (both use RBG color). Pantone, being a premixed color, will ensure consistency throughout all printed materials. “Barbie Pink” and “Coke Red” are pre-mixed Pantone colors (but their formula is a secret!). There are some generic named colors like “Rubine Red” or “Reflex Blue,” but that’s a holdover from some olden-day printing.

I hope my little lesson on color helped you in some small way today!

Now, a question. Some friends and I are trying to get an online magazine-ish-blog started. We ran one for the past few years, but now is the time to really do it for REAL, promote it and maybe even bring in some extra income with advertising. Our content includes personal essays related to current events. It’s about the story behind the story. We aren't looking for hard hitting journalists. We're looking for anyone who wants to share how their world is impacted by the world around them. If you would like to contribute shoot me an email (it’s a few months away from launching, but we can provide story topics, or take submissions). Also, if you have any experience or can provide guidance for our little startup, I would love to talk!

Finally, to a few fellow listserve readers: Lyndsy, I wish you and Rodrigo the best -- and I am so excited for you to start the next chapter in your life. Husband, I love you and I don’t know what I would do without you. Thank you for sharing this life with me.

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Atlanta, GA

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