Maintaining Color Consistency When Expanding into Signage or Commercial Print
As equipment barriers such as cost and complexity to entry lower, signage shops and commercial printers are increasingly adopting one another’s technologies. Of course, when an operation expands its capabilities, outsourcing costs can go down, but workflow complexity can go up. When workflows become more complex, the initial impulse is to quickly find a way to streamline and simplify them, to get rid of manual touch points and help campaigns run smoothly. And that’s a good idea! But it’s important to always remember that when you’re lining up your workflows, you’re also lining up color consistency. If your direct mail piece nails Coca-Cola Red, but your billboard is off, the campaign — and the brand — suffers.
It’s crucial to lock down color consistency across all channels to give brands’ iconography their power. When the entire campaign is handled in-house, checking and adjusting color consistency may be easier, but getting color consistency throughout the print process — including any print processes with which you’re not as familiar — can be difficult. There are some key factors to consider: substrates, consistency sometimes at the cost of higher quality and settling on a “color language.”
With regular commercial print applications, substrate selection is a little easier. You’re always buying paper. Sure, there’s a lot of variance in how different papers hold and display pigment, but wide-format substrate diversity is a whole different ball game. Knowing how different colors show on different substrates is key. To make it easier to get the right combinations, you may want to have a set of primary, repeatable substrates that provide variety and reliable color results, so you don’t have to burn through expensive test prints for every new job.
As for color quality, not all printers were created equal. It can be tempting to push for the absolute best color each device/substrate combination can create. But two or three or four different “best” colors are still several different colors, and the end result can look sloppy and inconsistent, even if individual pieces are particularly eye-catching. Across different print segments, there are key differences in inks, how those inks are imaged and the inks’ available color gamut. What you need isn’t one device’s best color; it’s the best color for all of your devices, so the campaign looks both sharp and consistent.
Workflows are always important, but they become even more so when diverse applications are involved. Hybrid commercial and industrial shops often find themselves with disparate workflow software that can make getting on the same page difficult when jobs require consistency across applications, like direct mail and backlit signs, for example. Hybrid shops can address that with hardware agnostic workflows or by finding ways to pass information between the solutions without losing color consistency. Whichever approach you choose, it’s vital to make sure the exact colors are being communicated in a precise way. That’s most often done by leveraging Pantone-specified spot colors and ICC profiles in your workflow.
Whether you’re coming from commercial print into industrial print, or from industrial into commercial, color consistency is already part of your business. Once you make that jump to become a hybrid print operation, it’s just as important and even more difficult. Keep an eye on it or enlist color consultancy experts to help get the job done.