Oh, we hear so many versions of this question!

  • It prints fine on my $50 printer at home; why are the colors all off on your $50,000 printer?
  • Why, oh, why, oh, CMY... K?
  • Why doesn't it look like the monitor?
  • Why is the blue on my PowerPoint coming out purple?
  • My logo is and has always been this exact shade of red.  It looks fine on your screen--right there!  Why is it a different shade when it prints out?

Okay, I'll calm down now and tell you the answer...  Forgive me if I dilate too much in my explanation. 

Projected light is a combination of three colors: Red, Green, and Blue.  A tube-TV has big red, green, and blue bulbs which combine to make your TV image.  From the TV there are often separate red, green, and blue cables to plug into the DVD player.  Projected light is a combination of three colors, and if you shine the whole rainbow at once, you see white light.  Combinations that sum to perceived white (projected light) are called "additive" colors.

Reflected color consists mostly of four colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black.  If you put all these together it will look black.  Back in the day we said, "The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue."  These also combine to form black (but aren't accurate enough now that we have computers.)  Color "gamuts" that combine to form black are called "subtractive" colors.

So consider if you had one painting palette of red, green, and blue; and another of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.  You "could" get the same colors out of both mixes, but it would be difficult.  That's what we do at Ram, and one more reason those who push the big green button on the copier all day need degrees in art.  But most programs just design for one type or the other--PowerPoint is a projection program, so printing off a PowerPoint file will always be in RGB and you'll always lose your color accuracy.  Again, I'm not saying to blame Bill Gates--blame the universal laws of physics.  If you pull your logo off your website, the color will be wrong and there's very little anyone can do about it.

In other words, if you take a picture on an amateur uncalibrated camera, which only takes pictures in RGB; then review it and color correct it on a different uncalibrated amateur RGB monitor, then if you like it you ask Windows to randomly attempt to mix those same colors in CMYK on your uncalibrated printer; the results will be hit and miss.  (There is no such thing as an RGB printer or a CMYK monitor or camera.)  So then you play with it and play with it until it looks perfect off your printer, and are pleased with yourself.

Then you bring it to Ram, because after all, if your printer looks good then ours must look great!  Thanks for the compliment.  But remember, you had to jerry-rig your camera, monitor, and printer to get it to look like this.  At Ram everything we have is professional and calibrated daily with big expensive lasers, but therefore and by definition it won't look like your duct-taped printer.  And we still have to go through a highly precise RGB to CMYK conversion, which will result in a rendering of the file exactly how it looks, but that may be different than you expect. 

So what can you do? 

Short answer:

  • nothing, it's just part of the game. 

Long answer:

  • Give us a PDF saved as "Press Quality" (not High Quality.) 
  • Convert everything to CMYK on your end as you're building your document.  (Starting with Office 2007 you can even do this in Publisher.)
  • Design downward!  Find a lovely RGB to CMYK converter on the net and use it to make everything look strategically wrong on your monitor.  (Add extra magenta into your blues, increase the contrast higher than is comfortable, etc.)
  • And as always and above all, call us with questions.  If anything in this article confused you, you probably won't master the topic before your project is due.  Oh, and higher than that, have fun!


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