How To Pick a Great Colour Palette and Make Sure It Stays Great in Print

Colour is an important and fundamental element of the brand identity. It generates emotional response and long-term impression among consumers. A University of Loyola Maryland study found that the correct use of colour could increase brand recognition by up to 80%. 

We rarely see colour in isolation. When two colours are placed next to each other, it can greatly influence its related semiotics, the perception of the colours as well as the visceral and reflective qualities.

Here are a few examples that show the perception of colour, affected by context:

a) The same colour can look different

The same colour can look different

b) Different colours can appear to be nearly the same by changing the background colour

Different colours can appear to be nearly the same by changing the background colour

(c) The rectangles in the heat map indicated by the asterisks (*) are the same colour but appear to be different.

The rectangles in the heat map indicated by the asterisks (*) are the same colour but appear to be different.

Colour attracts attention, informs and plays a great role in consumer decision-making. But how do you choose an aesthetically pleasing colour palette for your brand?

What makes colours look good together? Colour Harmony

Humans have trichromatic colour vision, as our retinas contain three types of colour receptors with different absorption spectra so all colour systems are based on the theory that there are three primary colours; RYB (red yellow blue), RGB (red, green blue), or CMY (cyan, magenta, yellow). This concept is central to Newton’s colour circle, the origin of all colour harmony theories.

Colour harmony is two or more colours seen in neighbouring areas that produce a pleasing effect. Many of the colour harmony systems can be represented through geometric chords. Below are some examples of geometric chords that identify harmonious colours: 

 

Colour harmony is two or more colours seen in neighbouring areas that produce a pleasing effect.

The geometry of the RGB colour model based on this trichromatic colour vision can be rearranged into HSL (Hue Saturation Lightness) or HSV (Hue Saturation Value) models.

How does this apply for the real world? Here are some visual examples of global brands that use colours that correlate to colour harmony theories. The colour star used is based on the CMY model.

Example 1: Brands that use complementary colour harmony

Brands that use complementary colour harmony

Example 2: BP uses both analogous and monochromatic harmony

 BP uses both analogous and monochromatic harmony

Example 3: Mozilla Firefox uses quadratic and monochromatic harmony

Mozilla Firefox uses quadratic and monochromatic harmony

Need help picking your colours? Use https://kuler.adobe.com

Want to catch attention? Try the 60-30-10 Rule with Colour Contrast

When using colours for key visual or print advertisement, many designers abide by the golden 60-30-10 Rule, a rule relating to the percentage of an image taken up by dominant, secondary and accent colours accordingly. Try using this ratio to establish balance: a larger portion of a less saturated colour can balance a small amount of a highly saturated colour for example.

Example 1: Campaign Magazine using the 60-30-10 rule

Campaign Magazine using the 60-30-10 rule

Example 2: Groupon Website

Groupon Website

Accent colours generally create some form of contrast to make an image more striking. Contrast can successfully be achieved by using a complementary colour, a colour of a different brightness or opposing cool/warm colours. The colour wheel can be divided into warm and cool colours as depicted below.

Accent colours generally create some form of contrast to make an image more striking.

How to make sure your colour stays great in print

Colour is device dependant and just because you can pick it on the computer doesn’t mean it can be reproduced or printed to the same effect. One of the most common challenge marketers face is transferring great designs on digital screens to actual offline print materials such as holiday cards, product packaging, event decoration, and store design.

Here are 7 tips you can do to make sure your colour stays great in print.

1. Do your research. Different print vendors have different specifications so either find a print shop with specifications that suit you or adjust to your print shop’s specifications. Specifications can vary from margins and bleeds to what file and colour format they require documents to be in.
 
2. Convert to CMYK. Printers use a CMYK colour model whereas digital files generally are produced in RGB, by converting to CMYK you are preparing your file for print and reducing the risk of receiving the wrong colours. However be aware of the print vendors specifications, some print shops expect to receive RGB files to have different colour adjustment settings. Black and white printing needs to be done in grayscale.

3. Check your resolution. For the best results, all images need to be at least 260 DPI (dots per inch) or even 300 DPI. Original sizes will naturally be better quality than stretched images.

4. Provide a hard copy sample. By providing a hard copy sample of the correct size with the correct colour, you are providing the printer with vital information about your requirements for the final product. The printer can compare his own sample runs with the hard copy and adjust settings accordingly.

5. Choose your paper. Paper is available in different colours, weights and finishes that can greatly affect the appearance of colour and the feel of a final product. If necessary sample run a page or two on different types of paper to choose which you prefer.

6. Sample Run. Do not underestimate the value of printing test pages or even the whole file, even doing this on your own printer before sending it to the print shop can make you aware of any problematic areas that you and the printer need to be aware of.

7. Consider pantones. The Pantone Matching System (PMS) are the best way to ensure consistent colour accuracy. It is a standardised colour reproduction system that uses colour swatches, which most print shops can accommodate. You can receive the swatches in hard copy choose one and refer the code to the printers, ensuring you receive the same colour.

Pantone international standard color card

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