I’ve spent much of the past week coming up with a selection of colors to choose from for our Mightyvite designs. Sure, parts of this task were fun—I got to spend time pouring through oodles of gorgeous colors, choosing swatches that are beautiful, inspiring, and capable of producing many interesting color schemes, and coming up with fun descriptive names for colors such as “wisteria,” “citrine,” and “aloe.” But, the task also proved to be a bit of a unique technical challenge for Mightyvites.
The challenging aspect of choosing a rainbow to work with stems from the fact that Mightyvites combine both print and web media. Colors aren’t formed the same way on screen as in print, and to further complicate things, we are dealing with 2 kinds of printing processes—digital and letterpress—between which the printed colors are handled differently. Let me attempt to explain in a simplified way…
RGB Systems—What You See On Your Screen
Screens such as your television screen or computer monitor work with an RGB color model. RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue. All of the colors on your screen are displayed by combining different amounts of red, green, and blue transmitted light. I like to imagine an artist mixing colors on a palette, but instead of paint, all colors come from light.
The RGB color model is additive and is based on a scale of 255. This means that when you add red, green, and blue lights together at their maximum values of 255, the resulting color is white. Consequently, when the value of each is zero, you will see black.
Another aspect that makes things even more tricky…and maddening…. is that colors vary from monitor to monitor. Individual screen settings such as brightness and contrast as well as the differences in gamut among screen models and manufacturers make it impossible to predict how a color will look on different screens. For example, I test on 2 screens: one is a Mac and is calibrated, the other is an external monitor which I have not calibrated. The difference in how colors display between the two is great, so I worked to choose colors that achieve as much of a balance as possible. However, the colors look totally different on my brother’s monitor across the room, which is a different brand than mine. This kind of thing can make you want to tear your hair out, but it’s something we as web designers have little control over.
CMYK—For Digitally Printed Mightyvites
Our digital invitations are printed using a 4-color process. CMYK refers to the 4 colors used: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. (The “K” stands for “key”…in 4-color printing, the C, M, and Y plates are carefully aligned to the black or key plate). In 4-color printing, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks are mixed together to make up all other colors. They are measured in percentages from 0 to 100.
The CMYK color model is subtractive and uses reflected light to display color. When cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks are combined and the value of each is 100%, the resulting color is a rich black. When the value of each component is 0%, you will get pure white.
You can already see that we are dealing with two completely different models of achieving color. One uses transmitted light to display color, the other uses inks and reflected light. In one model, white is achieved when full amounts of each component are mixed, and in the other, black is achieved. And as if that weren’t complicated enough, we have one more model to contend with: spot colors.
Pantone/Spot Colors—For Letterpress Mightyvites
Pantone colors are a universal system, an industry standard, for identifying colors. The colors are referenced in Pantone swatch books and given a specific number. For example, the blue color in the Mighty Nice logo, when printed on uncoated paper, is 2905 U. I should be able to give this number to any printer and get the same color every time. Pantone colors are mixed from a set of 14 standard base colors, and there are specific formulas (like recipes), for mixing each color. Since letterpress printing lays down one color at a time, this is the best model for that process.
So, how do we come up with a selection of colors that can hold some consistency across these media and methods? How do you find a CMYK value that comes as close as possible to a Pantone color? How will that color look on my screen? On your screen? On Uncle Fred’s? Talk about tricky! It took some careful consideration, a little bit of compromise for certain colors, and a pinch of guesswork. But we did the best we could. I’m sure adjustments will need to be made along the way, but for now we have a mighty nice palette to work with!
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