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The Importance of Color Communication

May 26, 2017 by Cindy Cooperman

When someone says “apple,” do you think red, green, or yellow?

What do you do if a customer asks you to produce a color using descriptions that are not specific enough? Check out how something as seemingly simple as color communication can determine whether your color program succeeds or fails.

A picture may paint a thousand words, but words alone do not paint a thousand colors.

Circular conversations about color happen everyday. They generally start with someone asking for a slight change to a color. Make it warmer, make it pop, tone it down. You have probably been there a few times. Maybe it’s a frustrating call with a designer who can “see” the color she wants, but can’t find the right words to describe it. Or a challenging conversation with the printer who didn’t produce the color you thought you conveyed.

Brand owners, designers, suppliers, and manufacturers try to communicate color expectations in many ways and, all too often, verbally. Each time a color description is passed along, it can be perceived and received a little differently.

This clip from the classic movie Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House shows color communication is a problem that’s been around for years:

The PANTONE® Matching System has brought the industry a long way toward better color matches. Physical color standards have an important role in a color workflow. They have brought an increased level of accuracy that words alone can never do.

A common question we get is about color matching of the same product from different production runs or different print suppliers. The question is, “If I send the same Pantone color to both suppliers, why don’t they match?”

There are a number of possible explanations for why this can happen. And, it can certainly be very frustrating, especially if you have already introduced physical standards to your color workflow.

One contributing factor is something called “Error Stacking.”

Error stacking happens when physical samples are used for color measurement references in addition to visual evaluations. When you measure a physical sample and compare it to another physical sample, there will be small differences between the two. It is very similar to what happens when you make a copy of a photocopy. You will always get the best quality when you print directly from the source file on your computer. And, in the case of color measurement, you will get more accurate results when you compare the measured result to the original digital value of the intended color.

Here’s a comparison of methods:

Error stack

It doesn’t have to be so hard.

The problem with many color and print quality programs is that they are focused on the wrong thing. Instead of analyzing the root cause issues when color goes wrong, they start patching holes. Ultimately, this leaves you chasing the wrong variables. When the root causes of color problems is not properly identified, you may get incremental improvement, but still miss out on the results you should be getting.
Brand Buyers Guide

We invite you to download our new Brand Manager’s Guide. It takes a fresh look at print quality programs so you can identify where you are in your current process, where you want to be, and learn how to fix the breakdown to drive better quality.




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