Colour modes and systems
When printing we primarily use 4 colours, cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK) to reproduce colour images. These 4 colours can be overlaid to produce a range of different colours. On other occasions, especially when printing business stationery, for instance, we can use spot colours and we usually use the Pantone system for this. This system uses a selection of pre-mixed inks to create the desired colours.
CMYK RGB Pantone
On screen, images are displayed as RGB (red-green-blue), and when printed will be made up of CMYK (cyan-magenta-yellow-black). Moving from one of these colour modes to another can cause variations in colour from what is viewed on-screen to the printed product. RGB has a much wider range, therefore, giving more depth, making images look brighter and more colourful compared to the printed product. What’s more, because all screens are different, with variations in brightness and contrast settings, an image may look different, even from one screen to the next. We use colour profiles in our design applications to simulate the final printed colours so that what we see on screen is as close to what can be produced on our presses as we can make it.
This graph shows a representation of the different colour spectrums achievable with each colour mode. As you can see CMYK has a much smaller colour gamut than RGB.
- Colour tip 1: When printing type and in particular very fine type it is better you use 100% of a colour and to avoid light tints in particular. These tints can create what we call ‘toothy’ edges to type where the print screen used to make the tint does not have a crisp solid edge.
Colours have widely accepted meanings and associations, although significantly these vary from culture to culture. Each colour can have positive and negative connotations:
Yellow | + bright, energy, sun, creativity, intellect, happy | – irresponsible, unstable
Orange | + bright, energy, sun, creativity, intellect, happy | – arrogance, insincerity
Red | + love, energy, power, strength, passion, heat | – anger, danger, warning
Pink | + healthy, happy, feminine, compassion, sweet, playful | – weak, immaturity
Purple | + royalty, nobility, spirituality, luxury, ambition | – mystery, moodiness
Blue | + tranquillity, love, loyalty, security, trust, intelligence | – coldness, fear
Turquoise | + spiritual, healing, protection, sophisticated | – envy
Green | + money, growth, fertility, freshness, healing | – envy jealousy, guilt
Beige | + dependable, flexible, crisp, conservative | – dull, boring, conservative
Brown | + friendly, earth, outdoors, longevity, conservative | – dogmatic, conservative
Grey | + security, reliability, intelligence, solid | – gloomy, sad, conservative
Black | + protection, dramatic, classy, formality | – death, evil, mystery
Silver | + glamorous, high tech, graceful, sleek | – dreamer, insincere
Gold | + wealth, prosperity, valuable, traditional | – greed, dreamer
- Colour tip 2: It is usually better to limit your colour palette. Normally we would recommend choosing 2 to 3 primary colours for use in brand or logo design. To this can be added a handful of complementary colours (see below for advice on choosing a colour palette).
Choosing a colour palette
Once you’ve chosen a primary colour that best suits your purpose, you can select a palette of colour. Here are a few tried and tested methods to help decide on an ideal colour palette:
A scheme derived from a single base hue using tints, shades and tones. If a colour is made lighter by adding white, the result is called a tint. If black is added, the darker version is called a shade. If grey is added, the result is a different tone.
Colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel are considered to be complementary colours. Complementary colours are tricky to use in large doses, but work well when you want something to stand out.
Is a variation of the complementary colour scheme. From the base colour, it uses the two colours adjacent to its complement. This has the same strong visual contrast as the complementary colour scheme but creates less tension.
This scheme uses four colours arranged into two complementary pairs. This rich colour scheme offers plenty of possibilities for variation. It works best if you allow one colour to be dominant.
Uses colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel. They usually match well and create a comfortable design.
Make sure you have enough contrast when choosing an analogous colour scheme.
A triadic colour scheme uses colours that are evenly spaced around the colour wheel.
Triadic colour harmonies tend to be quite vibrant, even if you use pale or unsaturated versions of your hues.
For an example of a colour palette designed to support a brand take a look at the work we did for the relaunched Sudanese Programme branding.
- Colour tip 3: By all means use means choose contrasting colours that stand out from one another, however, it is best to avoid colours that outright clash with each other. You should also avoid choosing white-out type on pale backgrounds and dark type on dark backgrounds unless you are seeking to achieve a particular effect. It is also unwise to place type on a busy image or patterned background.
You can download the information in this blog as a handy colour crib sheet. If you would like more tailor-made colour advice then don’t hesitate to contact our studio, please call 01865 242098 or contact us using the button below.