The Colour Conundrum: Why Achieving Consistency in Full-Color Process Printing is a Challenge

At Same Day Printing, we strive for the highest standards in colour accuracy and consistency. Understanding the complexities and limitations of colour matching in printing is essential for setting realistic expectations and achieving the best possible results. By working together, we can navigate these challenges and continue to produce exceptional printed products. 

I recently attended Drupa 2024 in Dusseldorf, the world’s largest print trade show. Drupa, held every four years, was canceled in 2020 due to Covid-19, making this year's event even more significant.

Colour consistency was a major focus at Drupa, with many manufacturers and equipment suppliers showcasing new solutions. While there were some promising developments, it's clear that no single solution can address all the challenges of colour consistency.

In printing, understanding industry standards and managing expectations is crucial. Colour consistency, in particular, involves various complexities and technical nuances. This blog post will provide a snapshot of these challenges, but it's important to recognise that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Challenge of Colour Matching

Despite advancements, achieving a perfect color match in CMYK process printing remains challenging due to several factors: including

  • Ink Variability: CMYK inks can vary slightly in formulation from batch to batch, impacting colour consistency. Differences between manufacturers can also contribute to variations.
  • Substrate Differences: The material being printed on, known as the substrate, affects the final colour. Different papers or surfaces absorb inks differently, leading to variations in colour appearance. Additionally, different laminates can impact colour.
  • Printing Press Variability: Each printing press may have slight mechanical differences, software, and calibration settings, leading to variations in how colours are printed. 
  • Environmental Factors: Temperature, humidity, and other environmental conditions can affect how inks dry and interact with the substrate, leading to potential color variations. Temperature-controlled rooms help minimise these challenges.
  • Colour Profiles and Calibration: Printers are calibrated to specific colour profiles, and differences in software interpretation and calibration can result in colour mismatches. Regular recalibration is essential to maintain consistency.
  • CMYK Limitations: The CMYK colour model has a limited color gamut compared to RGB and hex. Some colors simply cannot be reproduced accurately using CMYK inks.
  • Ink Density: The density and consistency of the ink application can vary, causing slight differences in the printed colour.
  • Ink Formulatio: The formulation of ink itself is another critical factor. Inks are composed of various ingredients, including pigments, binders, solvents, and additives. Variations in these components not only from the same manufactuere but across different manufactures and different inks for different printing technologies can lead to colorr differences even if it is at a base level all CMYK process. 
  • Human Perception: Human perception of color can vary, and lighting conditions under which the print is viewed can influence colour perception.

Industry Standards and Expectations

Due to these above factors, an exact colour match in CMYK process printing cannot be guaranteed, even on the same digital press and stock, let alone different presses and stocks. The industry tolerance for colour variation is approximately 5-10%. While color variation from front to back should not occur, it's important to manage expectations and recognise the limitations of CMYK processes.

For those requiring a closer color match, spot colour printing is an option. However, this process is considerably more expensive and we find most clients find it cost prohibative for micro to small runs.

While we did years ago, please note that we do not currently offer colour matching services at this time. As we specialise in fast turnaround digital printing full colour printing processes and as our name suggests our business model is based around a super fast workflow that helps us keep the ball rolling for all our clients, most of whom value swift delivery over exact colour accuracy to specific colours.

That's not to say that we don't aim to produce consistent quality and colour accuracy and while we do have modern high end digital presses combined with a high end digital front ends which enables us to provide more consistent colour reproduction,  for several technical reasons with CMYK process printing it can be very difficult and time consuming if not impossible at the moment to provide colour matching services through full colour process printing services. As a result unfortunately colour matching slows down our production processes considerably as we basically need to stop the presses from running any other clients jobs and add a lot more time while we try and create a colour match.

We also discovered that nearly all clients, about 95%, weren't up for the extra time and cost that colour matching involves. It's not just about press and operator time; we're talking things like courier fees for sending samples too. For something like your swing tags, this could easily triple the cost and add a couple of days. So, we now focus on finding the balance between efficiency and quality to meet the needs of most.

If you have any further questions or need assistance with your printing needs, feel free to reach out to our team. Let's make things happen, together!


Tom Dickson

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