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How to Use Color – Free Download


Color is EVERYTHING. It packs a powerful punch in design. It can draw attention, inspire emotions, organize information, and much more. That’s why, when it comes to branding your business, color is so important. A slight shift in printer settings can ruin a whole batch of flyers, and one misplaced character in a color code can spell disaster. Unless you deal with color and design as your profession, you may be mystified by terms like RGB and CMYK. What is spot color anyway? And why does any of it matter? What do you need to do? We can help you get some clarity on the lingo of color in design as well as how to use the 8 million files you probably received from your logo designer.

You probably learned about color basics in elementary school. When it comes to graphic design, it’s more complex than blue plus yellow equals green. You see, the color “blue” could refer to an infinite array of hues or shades of blue. Even a term more specific, such as “royal blue” could still have a crayon box full of blues to choose from. This is where our color standards come into play.  Each color that you’ve ever seen online or in person has a specific code or mix assigned to it, and is typically in one of three formats – RGB, CMYK, or Pantone (Spot) color. RGB and CMYK have numeric values assigned to every shade of every color. And spot color is even more specific. To help shed some light on this colorful topic, we have put together a graphic and invited a few guests to lend a hand (or paw).

Download this free resource here.

RGB is primarily for digital output, and stands for Red, Green, and Blue. Things like phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices use these three colors to produce the images you see on screen right now.  Saving in RGB color mode helps keep your digital design colors popping, since this is the best format for rendering accurate on-screen output.

CMYK stands for Cyan (sky blue), Magenta (hot pink), Yellow, and Black. This color model is commonly used in printing. Images are made up of layered colors that visually blend together. Because this process requires mixing, colors can vary between print jobs. Print is especially tricky. Making sure your stuff turns out how you expected can be a real pain. Printers use a different color model to reproduce what you see on screen on paper. This means that the actual output from the printer is usually going to look different than the graphic that was created digitally. That’s when we switch to CMYK mode, to get a better idea of what the color mix will be. Of course, it’s always a good idea to do a test print before running the entire job.

Spot color uses solid areas of ink to print custom colors. Because this process doesn’t involve mixing, spot colors are accurate and don’t vary between printed products. Industry standard for defining spot colors is the Pantone® color matching system. Defining Pantone® colors for a company helps keep logo and brand colors consistent. So if using spot colors means that they’ll be correct every time, why doesn’t everyone just use them for everything? Well, printing in spot colors is more expensive than standard CMYK digital or offset printing. Costs are often prohibitive, especially for companies that are just starting out. Instead, many printers will do what’s called a “color match,” to help align the printer’s color settings to best match a specified spot color. If you have a specific color code that you’d like matched, it’s a good idea to inform your printer up front, so they know what they’re looking for.

It’s definitely a good idea to have general knowledge of this stuff if you’re working with online design or print graphics. Of course, if you don’t feel like dealing with any of this, you’re welcome to leave it up to us. We use our experience to make sure every job ends up the way we intended it to, whether it’s on screen or on a piece of paper. Got a question? We’re here to help.

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