Know your Colours

By Cameron Macmillan in Design

Know Your Colours

Used well, colours can bring life, passion and meaning into a piece of design that cannot be achieved by form alone. Conversely, overuse or misuse of colour can leave a design dead in the water. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry too much about that because at JAZ we have a strong handle on the mix of science, experience and taste that is colour theory, and we use it on a daily basis to create designs that hit the mark for our customers.

What is useful to know however, is the ‘how’… how are these colours made?

There are two main ways we can use colour in a finished design; print and on screen. While the colours themselves may all look basically the same, the way these colours are achieved is very different.

Let’s start with print; your desktop printer, office photocopier and even multi-million dollar commercial printing presses use a 4-colour process called CMYK. This stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. These 4 colours are applied to the paper together in varying amounts, to create the vast array of colours you see in magazines and other print. CMYK is great for 95% of print jobs, but it does have some limitations; colours can vary somewhat from different printers on different days, and some particular colours can also look a little weak and grainy. This is where we start talking about PANTONE, or “spot” colours. The PANTONE matching system is a standardised set of colours that we use as a starting point in designs to ensure the best possible consistency in print. PANTONE colours are also essential for accurate conversions to specialty printing processes such as screen printing on mugs, pens and other merchandise. Finally, the other trick up PANTONE’s sleeve is its ability to print colours simply not achievable by CMYK, such as metallic and fluorescent colours. This is the only way to achieve a true gold or silver in print, as these inks contain a metallic powder to give them that sparkle you desire and expect.

On the other hand, ‘on screen’ applies to your computer, TV, smartphone, tablet and anything else with a colour display. These screens create colour by combining different amounts of Red, Green and Blue, in a colour model known as RGB. Each graphic and every element of colour that we create for web or any other on screen application is therefore built in RGB.

Aside from brushing up on your acronyms, what’s valuable in all of this is knowing that there are limitations in colours across different mediums, as well as some exciting possibilities. Every element of the design process is unique, and in knowing how to master the tools of our trade we make sure that your entire project is able to show its true colours.

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One response to “Know your Colours”

  1. Ross says:

    What is your favorite colour Cam?

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