Mar 222011

It is a VERY common situation that people in particularly the signage and digital textiles industries are used to using “generic” colour profiles that are generally acceptable however its typical that a time comes that this will not do what ever is needed for a job or customer. This is usually when a high accuracy colour ICC profile is required and is paid to be generated onsite.

I find a lot of instances where after the generation of this custom colour profile that is now producing accurate and balanced colour, along with true Pantone colours however generally is thought to be “dull” or “less vibrant”.

This could be a couple of things:

  • It could be that the profile is not functioning properly and is not capable of vibrant colour
  • More typically though it is because the artwork being produced is in a CMYK colour space and as such RGB or Pantone colour is great but CMYK is not.

This happens because actually CMYK in a file has nothing to do with the digital printing process using CMYK inks (generally the assumption made), but actually mapping this colour to an offset press that is far less colourful than digital is usually capable.

See this for yourself by opening the design program you use (for example Flexisign, Corel, or Adobe) and look at the colour management settings for your default working space of CMYK – it will be something like “US Web Coated SWOP” or possibly “Euroscale” or “Fogra27”. These are all offset standards and by working within the space of that offset standard a good and accurate digital print colour profile will accurately reproduce that offset standard and therefore will not be massively saturated or punchy in its vibrancy. This is supposed to happen because the profile for the digital printer is giving you the colour you requested in your file.

A good way to see an example of this for yourself is to take a particularly colourful RGB image or photograph and print this out. Then convert this same image to CMYK and print this new version out and compare the difference – you would expect to see a much more vibrant and colourful result from the RGB version of the print.
This does not mean that your printer is RGB, again this file working colour space has nothing to do with your printer.

The reason RGB will print better is because it can contain a more vibrant reference of the colour you are trying to achieve than a CMYK offset press can and as such will give the printer a much more colourful target to shoot for.

My recommendation is do not design for digital (be it web, TV, or print) in CMYK ever. Use RGB for photographs and use Pantone Solid Coated in vector for spot colours such as company logos etc.

Designing in CMYK is restricting your final output results to much less than you can probably actually do.

Also see this question and answer in the FAQ’s section:

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