Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Print Rant

So, have you ever done this in Babel Fish, where you type a phrase, then translate it to Japanese, then translate that translation to Polish, and then back to the original language? And it looks nothing like what you've typed?

I'm doing this right now at work. Except with color.

You see, the industry uses several standardized systems for colors, where a good old CMYK (Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/blacK) won't do. There is your general 4-color process, which is what your home printer prints in, and when you want to be fancy, there are systems like Pantone (so, when your buddy graphic designer is talking about PMS, they most likely mean Pantone Matching System and not their time of the month). Some colors, like particular shades of brown, purple, even blues and greens (think bright lime green or electric blue) are not possible to achieve with just CMYK, and Pantone uses things like extender inks and opaque white to get particular shades.
Sometimes it makes sense to substitute a color in your design with a Pantone, because it will give you better, cleaner, more predictable results. Because it's so easy to go from chocolate brown to, uh, diaper contents brown, and in certain situations you want to avoid this unfortunate possibility.

Which brings me back to my current predicament. I am working on a Thanksgiving ensemble, which includes domestic items (which we print here, in US) and foreign ones (which get printed in China). The company I work for likes to print everything that food would go on or in (plates, napkins, cups) locally, so we can make sure there is no lead in the inks, for example. Something like a centerpiece, on the other hand, is easier and cheaper to print overseas and ship here, and since no one is expected to put their chicken leg on a honeycomb centerpiece, we are cool with whatevs.

So long, that is, as the colors match across the whole ensemble.

Which is not as easy as it seems.
Our local guys are also big drama queens and always want spot (Pantone) colors in the files, so they can match things better. Of course, they probably think that we are the biggest drama queens, and they jump through hoops for us ("But we don't WANT the same design to repeat at the top of the napkin! It won't LOOK good! Sorry about the production difficulty.")

Anyway. So, the upshot is that for domestic production, I have to find the spot colors to match the brown background in my ensemble, and for the foreign production, since we don't know if our spot colors will look right, and we can't change them quickly and cheaply like we can domestically, I have to convert my newly found spot colors back to CMYK.
You would say, "But, Elfy, would you not simply go back to your original colors?"
To which I would answer,"Alas, if ONLY!" And then maybe I would sigh dramatically.
Because we did not just convert the background to a flat spot color. The background was a complex texture, and so it became a combination of 2 spot colors, greyscale tifs, overprints and clipping masks (just smile and nod, ok?). So, if I simply went back to the original, it would not look the same as what it looks like with the current arrangement. So, now, I have to find the right combination of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black to match the complicated contraption we've created for the domestic dudes. And it means a super scientific method of printing out my current domestic production file and looking through the book of 4 color process swatches to try to visually match the teeny sliver of the one color (it's a fuzzy texture, remember?) to its proper 4-color dopelganger. I'm going blind, I tell you.

And you thought that when you buy a set of paper party plates in Dollar General, no hard work or drama went into it!

1 comment:

  1. Love this! It sure does put your work and long hours into perspective.