Brand Color Standardization in Print

In my time as a Print Producer, I’ve had the opportunity of working with a gamut of different brands, from household names to new startups. Color has always been a critical part of this process, as all brands want to ensure their brand identity and recognition is portrayed as accurately as possible, especially when sending direct marketing pieces into the home. Through my experiences, I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks to standardizing color as well as matching color on an ongoing basis.

Achieving color consistency starts with setting a baseline for color matching. While brand standards are helpful, there is much more work to be done in practice to ensure that those standards are translated into your finished piece.

Tips to setting color standards

  • The starting point for setting color standards starts with your brand guidelines. Many times I’ve worked with a brand and only received RGB or Hex colors. Whenever possible, encourage brands to add in PMS and CMYK standards to help set you up for success.
  • If you print a variety of methods (offset, digital, large format), start by setting the standard with offset as it takes the most planning to set up. 
    • For PMS printing, start with ink drawdowns so that everyone is on the same page for what the PMS color will be translated to in practice.
    • For Offset CMYK printing – try a variety of builds slightly varying from the brand guide (ex: if you are printing PMS 202 and start with the CMYK of 0/72/62/47 create a sheet with slight variations on these values). This will ensure you can try alternatives in case the exact recommended CMYK does not translate perfectly with the chosen paper, etc.
  • For Digital presses, repeat the CMYK steps above and start with your new baseline if different from the brand standards. Digital is flexible enough to allow for more rounds than Offset at a lower cost.
    • Since the technology in digital presses varies more than Offset, you may need to rerun this standardization for different types of digital presses as they all perform somewhat differently. Keep this in mind when standardizing.
  • Factor in any and all commonly used sheets into the test when setting this process. I once worked with a brand that used everything from Kraft-like paper to a bright white sheet. The result is much different on these two types of sheets, so it’s important to set the right expectations when the paper varies.
  • If you are having trouble achieving the right look, think outside the box. I once worked with a brand that required a double hit of ink on a specific offset press to achieve the right look and feel for their brand colors.

Color is the most critical component to a print piece and setting the color standards will set up success from the beginning.

Written By: Jenny Gonzales