Signage Colours: Screen Proof vs. Actual Print
Here’s the difference
Have you ever printed something and been disappointed that the colours on the page don’t match the colour on the screen?
It’s a common problem in digital printing, and even graphic designers sometimes struggle to understand the differences between screen colours and print colours.
Here’s an explanation of why colour differences can be an issue.
Screens and prints create colours in different ways. Screens are naturally black and add light in the colours red, green, and blue (RGB). These colours are mixed in different amounts to create a range of colours, and when all three are displayed fully, the result is white.
Prints (modern signage is often digitally printed), on the other hand, start with a white background and add a mix of four pigment colours (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, or CMYK) to create a range of colours. If you mix equal parts of cyan, magenta, and yellow, you get black.
The difference in these methods of creating colour is the reason why it’s hard to match their appearance.
Know The Final Use Case
A good designer will always consider the intended use of their designs and try to work within the limitations of the medium. For example, logos that might be used both on screens (websites) and in print (business cards, letterheads and signage!) can present problems.
Increasing the Gamut
RGB allows for brighter colours, which is why colours that look very bright on screen can appear washed out or dull in print. We call this a wider gamut.
At Butler we use additional inks to increase the gamut of our CMYK printers and reproduce screen colour more accurately. We have printers configured with CMYK and added bright inks (Orange & Red), light Inks (Cyan, Black, Magenta), and Metallic inks.
Test Prints & Colour References
The software that runs printers, called RIP (raster image processor) software, can also affect how colours are interpreted. RIP software includes colour management profiles which change the amount of ink transferred to the page. That’s why test printing is so important – a good printing company will always run tests before printing a large job.
If you have specific colours in mind or want to see the colours for yourself before committing to a job, it’s a good idea to provide a recognizable colour reference (like a Pantone) or ask about test print options.
If you need signs with difficult colours and finishes, there are other options available. One common solution is to use contour cut coloured vinyl. This can’t be used for printing photos, but it can be used for solid colours like lettering or logo shapes. The more colours needed, the more complicated and time-consuming this process becomes, but it’s a common practice for smaller signage companies that don’t have printers.
The difference between screen colour and print colour can be a challenge, but there are ways to ensure a match. By considering the limitations of the medium, using test prints and colour references, and exploring alternative methods, printers can achieve the colours you need in your signage.
At Butler, we understand the importance of consistent colour. We run a colour server and a fully calibrated colour workflow to ensure true colour reproduction. Read more about colour matching and our GMG colour management software