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Color Printing

How to Get Good Color Printing

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Photographs can contain millions of colors. But most desktop printers and presses can only print a handful of ink colors. So how do you get all those brilliant colors of a photograph with only a few inks? Even if you only have one or two colors for graphics or text, color printing takes special preparation whether you use desktop printing, digital printing, or a printing press. And although commercial color printing can be expensive, there are ways to save money and still get all the color you want. Learn how to do color printing from the desktop, use a quick printer, or use a commercial service.

Color calibration

Calibrate Your Monitor for Color Printing
Calibration aids color printing; J. Bear
The first step to getting accurate color printing is calibration. This simply means adjusting your monitor and printer so that when you see a shade of red on screen, that same shade of red is what you get from your printer. If you scan a dark blue logo, you want the same blue to be in the graphic and on the paper when you print that logo. Many graphics software programs come with color management tools built-in. These may be all yuu need for calibrating your monitor and desktop printer. There are also some very simple methods that give decent results and other more complex methods for when color matching is absolutely critical.

Color guides

Spot Colors
PANTONE Spot Color palette in software; J. Bear
The way color printing works, even with good calibration there are still discrepancies between what you see on-screen and on paper. By using printed color guides it is possible to choose specific ink colors, assign those colors through software options, and be more confident that what you print will closely match the colors in those color guides. PANTONE colors are widely used in the graphic design field. Color palettes within some graphics software programs even contain some of the same ink colors found in PANTONE and other color systems. For individuals, the printed guides may be too costly but you can talk to your commericial printer and use their guides for color printing.

Ink colors

CMY colors for CMYK color printing
Subtractive primaries for CMYK color printing; J. Bear
Once you know what colors you want to use, you need to know how to get that color on paper. There are two general methods of doing color printing: Process color or spot color. Then there's also full color digital printing.
  • CMYK or process printing using just four ink colors layers dots of ink on the page to create the appearance of many other colors. Full color digital printing also uses CMYK inks but file prep is different. For even more photo-realistic images, consider 6 or 8 colors.

  • Spot color printing uses pre-mixed inks in a variety of shades. Using black ink plus a spot color is a way to save money on offset color printing.

  • Also: white. A frequently asked color printing question is "How can I print the color white?"

File preparation

Reversed Text on light backgrounds
Reversed text out of colors; J. Bear
The way you prepare digital files for commercial color printing affects how well the colors look on the page.

Printing services

You can save money and get photo quality custom color printing by knowing what to look for and how to find and investigate commercial printing services. Although some people like to work locally, many services are offered over the Internet as well. Get quotes online, upload a file, and have your color printing job delivered to your home or office or direct to a client.

Desktop printers

A woman with Hewlett-Packard demonstrates a printer at the 2004 TECHXNY show in New York City.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
Most homes with a computer also have some kind of printer. Inkjet printers and photo printers often come bundled with computer systems. Color laser printers that once cost thousands of dollars now go for just a few hundred dollars and provide fast, beautiful, crisp color printing.

No color

Color paper
Print black on colored paper; Photo Manamanah (Creative Commons license)
When you don't have a color printer you may think that everything you do has to be in black and white. Not so. There are some easy ways to get colorful designs even from a black and white laser printer.
Related Video
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Convert Color Photos to Black and White in Photoshop

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