Full color printing is an important print topic, and our guide will help you gain a better understanding of this subject. We’ll explain the basics of full color printing, how to design color products correctly and how to identify the best printing services. When your design is ready, look at our recommended companies for custom printing (full color). And finally, visit our page on printing services for a quick and easy overview of online printing.
- Full Color Printing
- Full Color Printing: Understanding the Basics
- The Benefits of Color
- Designing for Full Color Printing
- The Best Full Color Printing Services
- Custom Full Color Printing – Ideas
What Is Full Color Printing?
Full color printing refers to the 4 primary colors of ink pigment: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (key). These are the primary colors involved in printing, and they are blended in various amounts to create a wide spectrum of colors. Full color printing goes by several other names: process printing, CMYK printing, and 4 color printing. In this article we use the terms “4 color” and “full color” interchangeably.
What Is the Process?
Graphic design occurs in one of two color modes: RGB or CMYK. RGB, which stands for red, green, and blue, is responsible for color in display devices (computer screens, digital cameras, and television sets). The CMYK colors mentioned in the first paragraph are the 4 colors involved in 4 color printing. Graphic design files in RGB mode are fine for computer and Internet use, but they are not compatible with printing technology. CMYK is the only mode acceptable for professional offset and digital printing.
If you design your graphic in RGB mode, you must convert the file to CMYK in order to have it professionally printed. And while printers allow you to submit files in RGB format, they recommend that you or your designer perform the CMYK conversion, or design with CMYK from the start. Print services prefer customers to submit CMYK files because it ensures that the customer knows how the final colors will turn out. If you let the printer do the color conversion, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be satisfied with the new design, since the conversion can result in some changes in color. To be absolutely sure of what you’re ordering, work with CMYK at the beginning, or hire a design professional to convert your RGB file.
Once the printer has the CMYK file ready, the design is separated into four CMYK color values. In the case of offset printing, these values are then transferred to 4 separate printing plates (one for each color). The plates are then printed one after the other on a printing press and the combined colors recreate the original image on the final paper stock. An amazing number of colors can be produced through various combinations of the 4 individual plates in offset printing. For this reason, color poster printing, brochure printing, and other jobs that include photographs and multi-color graphics result in an accurate reproduction of the original shades.
Digital vs. Offset Printing
You may have heard the terms offset and digital in reference to 4 color printing. What is the difference between the two? Offset printing is the traditional print method used by professional printers. This technology uses plates and a printing press to print your graphics. Professional print companies can also offer digital printing. Digital printing services are faster than offset because they use toners and inks instead of plates. To choose between digital and offset, the deciding factors are the volume and the quality you need. For instance, if your full color flyers are for a one-time marketing campaign, a short run (less than 300 flyers) will be sufficient. For short runs, digital printing provides good quality, low cost products that are turned around fast. On the other hand, offset printing still provides the best quality. There are greater setup costs to 4 color offset printing, but if quality is a top priority and you want a long run (high volume) job, it will be cheaper to go with offset.
Small and big businesses alike recognized that advertisements and marketing materials printed in color are more powerful than the traditional black and white. To promote your business, organization, or even community event, it’s necessary to choose products in full color to compete in the market and reach your marketing goals. Today, individuals are bombarded with advertising, and it’s tough to make your company stand out in the crowd. A great example of this difficult environment is direct mail; people receive dozens of advertising materials on a weekly basis, and most of it gets thrown away. To avoid this, your catalogs, brochures, and postcards must utilize full color printing.
Color can be used to draw attention to specific parts of a promotional product. If you want to highlight specific words or phrases in an advertisement, use color text for those important details. This technique is important for direct mail postcards; high-quality color postcard printing will help capture the client’s attention in the few seconds that he or she takes to scan a piece of mail. The human eye is automatically drawn to what is different, and for that reason color mixed among black and white is a great strategy for promotional items like flyers, posters, and postcards. Individuals will be drawn to these key words (like “Sale” or “Free” or “50% Off”) thanks to the full color printing.
Full color printing can accentuate the style and theme of an advertisement, which makes the ad stronger; people get excited about the colors, and in turn get interested in the product or service that is being advertised. Many people are happy when Christmas catalogs arrive, because it’s a signal that it’s time to get into the holiday spirit. This phenomenon occurs thanks to the red and green that appears on the catalog cover. Logically, the next step involves opening the catalog, to see what it has to offer. Color makes a connection with your audience, and then leads them to the product that you are advertising.
Finally, color is necessary for images. Can you imagine what vacation brochures would look like in black and white? People want to see the exact shade of the golf course grass, and the color of the ocean water. To put it simply, full color brochure printing is necessary for many businesses and industries to accurately capture what they are advertising.
Selecting colors is a complicated subject, but we’ve provided a thorough discussion of color selection and combination on our color printing page. For new and old businesses alike, consistency is a key part of building and maintaining a brand. People will only learn to recognize your company’s brand if colors stay the same. The Target brand has done very well with its trademark bullseye logo, but many people fail to see the importance of the bullseye’s color; that bright red is a fundamental part of the logo.
Use complementary colors to produce a family of printed products and create a brand image. Link a flyer campaign to your poster advertisements by designing them with the same two or three shades. Your business gains recognition as people associate this combination with your products or services. Avoid losing this advantage by picking colors that you stick with from the start. However, it’s okay to incorporate red and green for the holidays, but keep your company logo the same. You want your product to stand out and gain attention, and this goal is easy to achieve with proper use of full color printing.
Where color appears on those postcards and flyers is another detail to work out. With just a few exceptions, all print products can be double-sided. Alternatively, you can opt to have black and white printing on the back, or no printing at all. If you do choose double-sided 4 color printing, select a thicker paper stock. You don’t want inks to bleed through to the other side, so for double-sided, color heavy projects, go with a heavier paper. Many online printers use a special notation to indicate color placement on the product, and it’s helpful to understand this notation: 4/0 denotes full color on the front and no printing on the back (a blank back). 4/1 means a full color front and black text on the back. Finally, 4/4 is full color on the front and back of the product. You’ll see this notation when you select the “Color Options” for your product’s order.
Text and Color
Text and color are two important features of a product design, and it’s important to understand the relationship between the two. Generally, text should stay black and color should be left to the graphics and pictures. Colored text mixed with colored background equals illegibility. Moreover, readers may find it hard to read text that appears on top of any colored background, even if the text is black. Especially if you have a complicated graphic as the background to the product, put the text next to the graphic. Many a business card has suffered from a beautiful background image being ruined by overlaid text. Finally, use a non-image software program for editing text portions of the design. Photoshop is designed for photographs, and manipulating text in this software could result in a poor text reproduction. Desktop publishing software like QuarkXpress or Microsoft Publisher is best for working with text.
Files destined for printing need to have high resolutions, or they may come out blurry or pixilated. DPI (dots per inch) is a measure of resolution quality, and full color printing services recommend that DPI be at least 300. Haven’t you ever been disappointed with a crisp online image that printed out pixilated with your desktop printer? Avoid using pictures you find on the Internet because these often have low resolutions, and they will lose detail when printed.
Image File Format
There are several file formats for images and some you might recognize are .eps, .tif, .jpg, and .gif. The file types .eps and .tif use “lossless” compression (without loss), which allows them to maintain the original image details during the editing process. Therefore, .eps and tiff provide greater color quality and sharpness for full color printing. The other files, .jpg and .gif, utilize “lossy” compression (with loss). These highly compressed files sacrifice the small details in order to save on file size, which makes them great for Internet use, where small file size is important. Yet, when saving and editing .jpg and .gif files, image quality is often comprised. The .jpg and .gif files are best suited for web use, whereas the .eps and .tiff files are preferred for printing.
Bleeds are the space that is left around the border of a print design to guarantee that no text or graphic is chopped off during the printing process. It’s a good idea to build an extra quarter of an inch around the borders of your design in the event that the cutting blade misses the cut line (it happens more than you think). However, if you wish to have colored backgrounds or graphics reach to the edge of the product paper, you must choose a full bleed. With a full bleed, the design graphics extend to the last edges of the page, and no border is left. Full bleeds are selected to maximize the use of color. There’ll be no white border or black line to interrupt your vibrant flyers or posters. If you’re worried about cutting off your design, make it easier on yourself by using downloadable product templates from online full color printing companies. These templates mark off bleeds, cut lines, and safe zones and ensure that all of your design is protected. Use these product templates with publishing and graphic design software.
Here are our 6 easy steps to finding the best full color printing services.
- Define the Project. Write down what exactly your project involves. Do you need design and mailing services in addition to full color printing? Is it one product or a selection of promotional materials for a marketing campaign? Also make sure to specify how many you need, and how fast the order must be delivered.
- Set the Budget. Every well-planned project has an initial budget. Set a goal to spend no more than a certain amount at the beginning, in order to avoid problems at the project’s end. If possible, look at what you spent on past print products and adjust your numbers accordingly. Finally, be specific with your budget; make it clear whether the number is for printing only, or if the figure is for the entire project (including design fees, distribution costs, etc.).
- Gather Recommendations. Obvious resources for recommendations are your office and your personal network (friends and family). These people may have experience with printing, and they can give you the names of excellent services. Next, turn to the Internet, which is loaded with resources (not all of them reliable of course) for full color printing. Turn to graphic design blogs and online magazines that discuss color printing services. Many freelance designers maintain their own blogs, and these pages can give honest reviews of printing companies that the designer has used. Also search “full color printing services” online and check out some of the companies that pop up as search results.
- Compare Company Features. Once you’ve got a handful of names, it’s time to compare what these online full color printing companies have to offer. First, make sure that the business has your product; large, complex products like full color banners aren’t available with every printer. Investigate customer service options (e-mail, phone, live chat) and how useful you find the online Help section. Also look for features that you’ll need for this specific project; the feature may be a large selection of templates, if you’re designing on your own. Or, it could be 2 day turnaround and shipping time, for a product that needs to be completed as soon as possible.
- Compare Printing Prices. The biggest question of all is which full color printing services have the cheapest prices. Use instant pricing tools on company websites to get estimates of project costs. However, remember that the best choice may not be the lowest price. Consider the balance of quality and value; it’s not smart to sacrifice the first for the second. If you’re not sure about the online full color printing quality, ask the company to send you a free sample kit. The kit will give you a good idea of the production quality, and it will be easier to weigh the cost factor.
- Make a Decision. After completing your research and narrowing down the options, the only thing left to do is to pick one company! Take into account all the factors we discussed above, and don’t wait any longer: take action.
Full color printing doesn’t need to involve a lot of words. If your postcard or flyer contains little text, let the colors and images do the talking. Just make sure that the information (however little) on the paper is not compromised by too much color. A postcard for a real estate listing could be a picture of the house or apartment with a few details about the price, location, and your contact information. Posters and flyers for concerts or plays really don’t have to be busy; a photo of the singer or band is enough to pique a person’s interest. If you don’t plan to use images, well-placed designs can make your product stand out. Create modern full color business cards with a simple graphic design in the background. This extra element adds modernity and leaves you free to use a simple text layout.
A final coating over printed products is a great way to accentuate colors included in the design. Choose from a glossy or matte coating. Both finishes make designs much more vibrant, but in different ways. A matte finish has a muted, less obvious effect than a glossy coating; glossy finishes give catalogs and brochures that “slick” feeling. A matte finish is a better choice for a classic business card. Check with full color printing services to find out how much it costs to add a final coating.
That’s the end of our tips and advice for full color printing. Keep this page as a printing resource and refer back to it when necessary as you begin your project.