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Using color

Graphics | March 1, 2008 | By:

Color speaks first to the audience.

Color plays an important visual role in communication, because it speaks to us in subtle but powerful ways. Color delivers visual interest and can set a sense of order. Using too many colors can reduce readability. Colors should enhance and support an idea but not distract from it. Brand loyalty can increase when company colors are matched correctly. Color has even been proven to boost memory. Ads in color are read more often than black and white ads, and focus groups show that customers remember color presentations longer.

Color can also:

  • set the mood
  • grab your attention
  • trigger an emotion
  • work in harmony or in contrast to an idea
  • support or distract from a message

Color printing

Color printing is the reproduction of an image or text in color and an important part of design. The number and type of colors used is a major factor in determining costs.

One-color printing. One-color printing is usually the least expensive to produce. Everything, including graphics or photos, is printed with the same color, or screens of that color. Often that is black ink on white, but it can be any color, as long as it is just one color.

Two or three-color printing. Two or three-color printing is as it sounds—printing with two or three spot colors, or two colors and a coating. Here each color is laid down separately. Spot colors are colors mixed, printed alone, and offer almost limitless choices.

Most designers and printers use the Pantone Matching System (PMS), a color management system for spot color printing. PMS guidebooks provide reliable sources for both picking and mixing colors.

Four-color process. Most magazines are printed in four-color process. This is made by printing cyan, magenta, yellow and black, also known as CMYK. (“K” means key and represents the black or “key” color.) CMYK can form all colors by overlapping dots and is used to reproduce color photographs. Four-color process can be used in both web (continuous) and offset (sheet-fed) printing. It is more expensive than two or three-color printing, although other factors such as paper and quantity also determine cost.

Six-color process. It is possible to print using both processes at once (four-process colors plus one or two spot colors), which is a five or six-color project. Often with dense color coverage a coating is used to protect the final product.

The new Pantone Hexachrome color system is a six-color high quality printing process, which is more expensive but it provides vibrant color.

Choosing color is an important part of the design process for mood, visual expression, and ultimately cost. All color choices can provide interesting challenges for designers. Using one choice is not better than another, and two-color printing can be as striking as four or six-color work. Color processes should be picked because they fit the project, the budget and support the message. Most importantly, color should enhance the idea and make the project better.

Sara Klomp is creative director at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn.

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