The full spectrum

Colour plays a huge part in every aspect of design and can arouse strong opinions from clients and designers alike. Colours are often chosen on personal taste or some spurious theory. A client of ours once rejected a suggested colour pallet because it reminded him of the new curtains his wife had just bought, and he hated them. Let's look at good use of colour and how to get it right.

Only two elements
Something isn't right here is it? EasyJet is instantly recognisable because of its consistent use of orange, take that away and the brand values disappear. The EasyJet brand and all its subsidiaries all use just two elements, the font Cooper Black, a deeply unfashionable typeface and that solid use of just one colour. These two elements combined are so engrained in our minds that when they are altered it messes with our melon.

More than a logo
Few would recognise the Fornum and Mason logo on its own, but their colour permeates throughout the brand. When you walk around their Sharfesbury store the place is full of it, from tea towels to chocolates.
Great pains are taken to ensure consistency of colour and that is no mean trick. As we shall see, getting consistent colour across a range of printing techniques is really difficult, in fact, impossible.


So what’s the problem?
When we provide a piece of design work to a client, they usually see it on screen first and then in print later. Screen renditions will never match a printed piece of work. Not only that, viewing colours on screen changes from one type of screen to another. No matter how designers warn their clients, it can often be a disappointment when printed matter arrives and "it's not as bright as it looked in the PDF".
Why is that? Well, it's all about gamut.

What’s the gamut?
Gamut, which sounds to me to sound like some form of medical condition, is the colour 'space' that the human eye can see colour. Depending on what gamut you view colours, will dictate how many colours you can see. Screen gamut is much wider than print gamut, you can see more 'levels' of colour and they are brighter. What you are seeing on screen is projected light. With print, you are seeing reflected light based on the print process. It can only achieve a limited range of colours. Do you see?

Spot, HEX, CMYK and RGB
There are a huge range of ways of selecting the colour you want, other than just trying to match your curtains, or not, as the case may be. And these 'types' of colour selection are chosen based on the output 'devise' you will be using in the end.
Spot colour is a Pantone colour and used to create a specific ink mix in litho print. designer still use this as a starting point, even if in the end the colour will not be reproduced this way.
HEX is for web, CMYK for full color printing and RGB is for screen rendition.

Working backwards
When setting up a pallet for a corporate identity we work backwards. We define a colour using the gamut that is the most restrictive, usually CMYK. We then convert these colours into the different colour profiles. This can deliver disastrous results! Some colours will not convert well and a colour can look massively different when converted from screen to print. Back to the colour charts we go until we get as consistent match as possible.

That’s a compliment
Building a colour palette for a piece of design work can be tricky. Aim for two colours and variations on those two. To many colours will make anything look amateurish. Choose a colour and add percentages of black to it – you can't go wrong. Choose complimentary colours that work together, or opposing colours. Not as easy as it sounds, but this tool helps.


An extract from Know Your Onions: Graphic Design can be read here, it's all about colour.

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