Wednesday 13 June 2007

Colour reproduction and printing

You send off your company images to the printers and are then dismayed at the result that comes back! This is a common result, frustrating to both printers and their clients. It inevitably arose in converstation with Peet Hiddink, a Dutch photographer (whose work on Doors has been accepted by UNICEF for a colourful series of cards) and her partner Jos when visiting Cambridge over tha past two days. For an artist especially, the transition from photo on the screen to print by a distant company can be a traumatic experience.

So how do you ensure avoid these problems with material your company is producing? The following comes from my years of experience wrestling with the issue and suggests a pragmatic solution.

The first step is to accept the fact that as an image progresses from one medium to another or from equipment to equipment, it is never quite the same. What our eyes perceive is different to the film camera which is different to the individual brands of digital camera, to the PC screen to our deskjet printer, to the commercial printing machine. There is a lengthy informative article and related information available at the Technical Advisory Service for Images (TASI) if you want it but here's the message in brief.

Your PC or mobile screen cannot reproduce the full spectrum of colours we see, although we build our colours in the same way from red green and blue light (RGB). The colour range of the printer is different to that of the screen and is generally made up of cyan, magenta, yellow and blacks (CMYK). By the time you get to the printed version, you have lost a lot of the potential colour spectrum! it also means that certain shades of blue, red and green visible on the screen cannot be reproduced accurately by printing (techies say that the RGB colour extremes are out of gamut from the CMYK range).

A good photograpic or printing company will take account of this by getting the screen to display in the more limited range of the printer and then adjusting contrast, brightness and colour balance in such a way that the eye/brain believes it is seeing a pleasing full colour image.

The second step therefore is to find a good local printer who is prepared to work with you. Build a relationship where you get an idea how they work and they understand what you need over successive contracts. If you can, view the images before they are printed on their screens as they will have tried to get their screen views as close to their printing machines as possible.

The final step is to get a proof printed, preferably on the machine that will do the complete run, and to look at that proof WITHOUT reference to the original. Minor colour changes can often still be tweaked on the printing machine at this stage. If you like what you see printed - go with it, if you don't, ask the printers advice on how the original should be changed, or what you should do differently in future.

For an artist or director with a real emotional committment to the image being printed, a lot of stress is reduced by judging the printed product on its own merit without the critical eye of comparison with the original. If you and the printer are happy with the product, your clients will not know the difference when they receive your printed brochure, postcard, flyer etcetera.

Peet was interested in photographing angels for a new project, so here is one I photographed on our sightseeing tour around Cambridge. Looks good doesn't it? Ah, but you should see the original stained glass window in Kings College Chapel!

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