The title of this article might be a bit misleading. “What affects print colour” might be better termed “The way we see colour is weird, so what you print might not be exactly the colour you expect and here’s why”, but that didn’t make for a particularly catchy title. In a previous post, we already explored some of the things that can affect our perception of colour, notably how light affects our perception of colour. There are other factors, too; how the image is contextualized (i.e. the other colours around it), and your own perception of colour (i.e. colour vision deficiency).


The monitor you’re using will also affect how the image looks on the screen versus how it looks in real life. You can experiment with this easily enough on your own; get two monitors, and compare the same image on one and the other - assuming the monitors are different, you’ll get pretty stark variation in colour. One of the many values of using a colour matching system, like the Pantone Matching System (PMS), is that they are consistent across print jobs, so you can have a better idea what to expect when the document is printed. That said, it will still appear different on the monitor, so test prints are always a good idea.


The stock you print on will also influence the colours you get at the end. When your stock isn’t coated, the ink will be more readily absorbed by the paper. Coated stock, conversely, is less absorbent. Which stock you want will depend on how you want the final document to look; a glossier finish can be a nice touch, but it can also result in light reflecting off of the document, which of course changes the overall appearance of the document.


Whether you are using RGB or CMYK values in your editing software will also affect the final print. Printers use CMYK while RGB is commonly used on the web; that means you’ll want to change your document to CMYK values so that the document you print will accurately reflect the colour values you want; transferring from RGB to CMYK can create notable differences. There’s good news on the horizon; potential changes to the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) standards proposed by the CSS working group include making CMYK the standard for CSS, which would standardize colour for both web and print.

There are even more variations in colour that are too complex to go into in a single post. RGB colour spaces are a factor; a colour space defines the gamut of colours that a computer can interpret. That means that depending on what device you are using, you might end up with different colours; higher grade cameras, for example, might create more distinct colours than lower grade, and two different operating systems or editing programs might interpret the same picture in different ways, all of which could affect the final document. How you print can also affect colour; digital printing might net you different colours than offset printing. That’s a lot of colour variation!