Archive for the ‘graphic design’ Category
Posted on February 20, 2010 - by Lisa Nalewak
The difference between being “Just a Graphic Designer” and a “Graphic Designer People Want to Hire”.
This topic has come up many times in conversations I’ve had with industry peers: What makes a graphic designer a “great” graphic designer versus an “average” or “typical” graphic designer? Plenty of people I’ve interviewed have asked me “What makes you decide to hire one designer over another?”
First of all, let’s define “graphic designer”. A “graphic designer” can be many different people: someone who is focused on producing artwork for art’s sake, equivalent to someone who produces fine art for a living (painting, sculpting, etc). They can be an artist who creates graphics for clothing, or designs patterns for fabrics or carpeting. They can be someone who designs patterns or scenes for embellishing automobiles. There is a wide spectrum of positions for which “graphic designer” applies. For the sake of this article however, I define a “graphic designer” as someone who works creatively in a commercial advertising/marketing capacity.
Evaluating someone as a “great” graphic designer is partially interpretive, and the hiring process involves the subjective evaluation of intangibles like character, attitude and professionalism. Nonetheless, I do believe you can distill the main requirements for “graphic designer greatness” into a few key areas that require specific, high degrees of competency. I discuss them below so that as a graphic designer trying to find work in the advertising/marketing space, you’re armed with a good understanding of what people who hire designers are looking for, and to help you prepare as best you can to land the job you’ve always wanted.
Requirements for “Designer Greatness”:
1) High degree of artistic ability, alternatively referred to as “talent”
2) Advanced skill with popular creative tools
3) Working knowledge of popular industry production processes
4) Excellent understanding of business and marketing fundamentals, particularly how to leverage business and marketing knowledge to create end-products that meet or exceed a client’s goals and expectations
5) Ability to visualize and experience end-products you’re creating through the eyes of the target audience (and sometimes, multiple target audiences)
6) Responsible and proactive work ethic
1) Artistic Ability or “Talent”:
What Is It? – Artistic Ability is the “base” talent of all successful designers. It’s a designer’s ability (partially innate, partially learned) to envision and design a polished, professional looking finished product, whether it be a printed piece of collateral, a logo, a website, a billboard ad, etc. It requires an advanced understanding of color, composition, and typography and adept handling of element unity, dominance, hierarchy and balance. It is by far the most elemental talent a designer needs, for without it they are, in essence, not a designer. However, it is also the most common talent found among designers, which is why – to someone like myself who hires and fires designers for a living – it is the most basic requirement, and not the one that helps me make the ultimate hiring decision. All people who make it past Step One in the Hiring Process will possess excellent Artistic Ability, so it represents only the first step in the culling process.
Advice for Designers – If you are looking to get hired as a designer, be sure your level of talent meets or exceeds the level of talent that is currently acceptable in the jobs you desire and to which you are applying. It takes one level of talent to work at a small, local newspaper designing classified ads for small businesses. It takes a very different level of talent to land a job at a top New York advertising agency. If you are unsure about your ability level, talk to a design professional working in a similar position to the one you want and ask them to evaluate your work. Show them multiple pieces, and describe each project’s background in detail (including the business goal of each piece you designed), and then ask them to honestly evaluate your work. If they believe your work is not up to the level it needs to be, ask them to give you advice on how you can get there. Any designer with talent can get better: for some it just takes longer, so don’t give up!
2) Skill with Popular Creative Tools
What Is It? – This is a person’s expertise (which is learned, not innate) with the most popular creative productivity tools in the industry. These include applications like Photoshop, Illustrator and Quark Express (called “The Big Three” by many), other popular graphic applications like Flash, InDesign and Corel Draw and other productivity tools like Adobe Acrobat, Word Processing programs, MS Office applications, AdobeVersion Cue and Windows/Mac operating systems.
Advice for Designers – It is extremely important that designers be experts in the use of the most popular programs used in the graphics industry, because in the design world, you’ll need them to do your job and because – most importantly – time translates into money. If one designer can achieve a specific result in 1 hour, and that same task takes someone else 3 hours, it’s not hard to understand why the person who is most efficient with their productivity tools will be preferred over the other: that first person can do three times the amount of work in the same amount of time as the other and for a design agency, that means higher productivity and higher profitability.
The best way to learn tools is to use them. Set aside an hour or two a day and just play. Investigate all the different functions your software package offers. Create “projects” for yourself, and see them through to fruition by using features you’ve never used before. Most software tools come with tutorials: they are definitely worth exploring. You’ll learn an enormous amount of new material, and you may learn how to become more efficient with processes you already know. In addition, many local colleges and adult education programs offer classes in the most popular graphic design and business software, as do the actual software publishers themselves. If you can afford to take these classes, do it. They’re an excellent investment in yourself and can give you an edge over other designers when looking for employment.
Even if you feel you are already well versed with your software, be sure to continually educate yourself on new features and functionality that are part of new version releases. Being an expert in Photoshop 6.0 might have made you competitive back when 6.0 was the latest version of Photoshop available, but if you have neglected to keep up with the most recent versions, that expertise will get you nowhere today.
3) Knowledge of popular industry production processes
What Is It? – Simply put, this is the technical understanding of how the visual pieces designers create are actually produced, printed or published. It means possessing the production knowledge necessary to ensure that a visual communications piece prints, outputs or displays correctly in the media for which it was designed. This knowledge is critical when prepping an art file you’ve created. Much of the technical information for the correct production of a piece is assigned by the designer and is included (or “embedded”) in the art file itself.
Advice for Designers – Know the different production requirements for art that you create for various media formats. For example, when creating an ad for a magazine, be sure you understand how that magazine will be printed and produced so the art you create 1) takes advantage of that particular production process’ strengths and avoids its weaknesses, and 2) reproduces correctly and at the best quality. When creating a graphic that will support a web magazine’s editorial feature, make sure you understand the specific technical requirements for that image as it applies to electronic distribution over the web. Understanding the different production methods used to produce the most popular forms of visual communications will also allow you to get creative with materials as well, and create unique pieces with atypical stocks and finishing processes.
If you possess high quality artistic talent, but do not know the difference between setting up art to print in spot-color, four-color process and for electronic distribution, or do not know how to create a die-line, or what type of challenges to expect when overprinting inks, or designing for billboards, you have immediately put yourself at an disadvantage over other talented artists with this critical production knowledge. Why? Because it 1) limits your creativity and 2) limits the effectiveness of your work, which means someone else will have to “fix” your art to produce it correctly. That costs either your agency or your client money, and causes frustrations for both as well.
The best way to keep abreast of production technology is to be proactive about reaching out to production companies that specialize in various media, and to look for sources of information in print and on the web. Talk to you local offset printer. Visit a web fed press. Visit a large commercial digital press. Talk to web design gurus. Subscribe to different magazines that cover these topics. Follow blogs that cover advances in the different production technologies. Join groups on social networking sites that share information, tips and strategies on different production methods. Visit your local Chamber of Commerce or Community College and take continuing ed classes. There are many more ways to keep on top of production technology. It’s up to you to find them and keep yourself educated and up-to-date.
4) Excellent understanding of business and marketing fundamentals
What Is It? – Basically, having an excellent understanding of business and marketing fundamentals as a designer means you understand WHY a piece is being created for a company and how that piece fits strategically into a broader, higher-level marketing and/or business plan. It means you understand the specific business goal a piece you are designing must achieve, why it is important that the piece achieve it, and why the achievement of that business goal is the most important criteria for evaluating the success of your design (not whether or not you think it looks pretty or “artistic”). In the design of visual communication pieces for business, art plays a secondary and supportive role. In order to achieve this understanding, you must be familiar with how businesses work and how they market themselves.
Advice for Designers – The understanding of business and marketing fundamentals is the most rare – and the most important – attribute designers possess. Those that have it are years ahead of those that don’t, because they do not demand that their agency spend months, and possibly years (which costs time and money) teaching them why the art they are creating is important to the client, and how it will be used. That knowledge makes a big difference in a designer’s ability to design an effective piece, and clients want pieces that produce results, not just look pretty. All else being equal, I will hire a designer with excellent business and marketing acumen and good creative tool skills over one with elite creative tool skills and weak business and marketing acumen, because the tool skills come very quickly to talented artists. The business and marketing acumen isn’t as intuitive and takes longer to develop.
While every industry has some unique factors that effect how companies in their space do business and how they market themselves to their consumers, there are still general, fundamental business and marketing practices that are common amongst all industries. Most people learn these through experience. Some learn them from books and study. Some from both. Whatever way you can, you must learn these basics so you can approach your design from the perspective of a business and marketing professional first, and as an artist second.
If you approach a project in the same way as your client, who is no doubt a business or marketing professional and NOT a designer, you will be at an enormous advantage over other designers who do not speak the same “language” as your client. When you approach a piece from a business and marketing perspective, and design it to meet a specific business or marketing goal, you are ensuring that your piece is effective and drives results for your client. And that’s what clients want: results, not art.
There are numerous books out there that teach people about the fundamentals of business and marketing. Get some. Read them. Take introductory classes or go to seminars for entrepreneurs. Talk to other designers who’ve been doing what they do for a long time, particularly those who do a lot of work in direct mail and print advertising. Find out how they approach a project from a business perspective, and then start doing it yourself. When you find yourself thinking “How should I design a cool-looking business card so it convinces the recipient he absolutely needs my client’s services?” rather than “How can I design this business card so it looks really cool?”, you’ll know you’re now thinking like a business professional, and that will put you at a serious advantage over other designers who do not.
5) Ability to see through the eyes of the target market
What is it? – Simply put, having the ability to experience the world, including interacting with collateral you’ve designed, through the eyes of your target market means you can remove yourself from your own system of beliefs and values when evaluating an experience. Instead, you evaluate experiences using a system of beliefs and values common to people within your target market segment, even if their beliefs and values are vastly different from your own. Another popular way of saying the same thing is “Being able to walk in someone else’s shoes”, in this case, the shoes of your target audience.
Advice for Designers – It is not easy to fundamentally change the way you think in order to be more like another type of person. However, with practice, it becomes easier to achieve. If you are unable to attain this level of “enlightenment” when designing something for a specific target audience, rest assured the final product you design will be nowhere near as compelling and effective as a piece created with the wants, needs, beliefs and desires of the target audience in mind. It is essential that as a designer, you become skilled at removing your likes, tastes, desires, style preferences and personal feelings from the process of design, and instead learn to execute a design using the likes, tastes, desires, style and personal preferences of your target audience instead. To do this, you must first recognize who your target market is, and then research their preferences as they pertain to the topic of your design project.
For example, let’s say you are asked to design a postcard to sell women’s swimsuits. The target demographic is women, aged 25 to 40, which is being mailed to a retail clothing chain’s mailing list. You don’t have to think too hard in this example to understand that your card has to appeal to women, particularly to younger women. But, can you dig further to uncover more about this audience? What type of woman does this clothing chain attract? Trendy, fashion conscious women? Outdoorsy, natural-type women? Frugal, conservative women? Where are most of these women located? Are women in Dallas generally different then women in Boston? How about income? Are these women generally in lower, mid or upper level income brackets? Are they generally healthy, active types or do they tend to be more sedate and indoor activity oriented? Does this have an effect on how they view their bodies? Once you learn the specifics, you can put together a “value list” for your “average” target customer and from that, you can get a good design direction for your project.
For our example, let’s say our target audience is generally outdoorsy type women and that the chain is located in the Boston area, and that most people who shop at this chain are in the mid and upper level income brackets. Based on this and conversations with your client about their customers, you are able to infer that these type of women are likely to respond to graphics and visuals that emphasize the outdoors, that they can afford and are likely to purchase high-level products, that they are generally more liberal in their values than conservative, that they tend to be active and most have a healthy body image. Now, you approach your design project by thinking “If I were this woman, what type of design elements would motivate me to pick up this card, read it, and then respond?” An earthy color palette would be a good place to start, as would a handmade-looking, fibrous card stock. Perhaps imagery of outdoor scenery, coupled with a natural, flowing arrangement of body flattering suits in the layout, anchored with green-friendly messaging would help our piece “connect” with its audience. This is a very different approach than if we were designing for a hip, urban crowd, or for a conservative, more reserved crowd, and – most likely – it’s also quite different from the types of things that would motivate you if you were the recipient of the piece in the mail. It’s all about thinking from the perspective of the target audience, and putting aside your personal preferences to achieve the best end-product possible.
The best way to brush up on this skill is to do it. Give yourself assignments: create a series of designs for the same product, but for different target audiences. Change the gender, age, income and geographic value of the end-user. Change their hobbies and likes. Change the political climate of the country, even. For each new set of demographics, values and beliefs you make up, create a completely different design. There are many factors that go into “thinking like another”, so try to get as creative as possible. Over time, it will become second nature to approach every design project you take on from the perspective of the target audience instead of from your own perspective (or even the perspective of the client) and the efficacy of your designs will improve greatly.
6) Responsible and proactive work ethic
What is it? – Hopefully, this is already something most people looking to embark on a successful professional career already cultivate, but still, it’s worth mentioning. Being responsible and proactive basically means that you are an amazingly stable and dependable worker, always strive to meet and exceed the expectations of those who count on you, and take the initiative on a regular basis without being asked to do so. In my experience, finding people with responsible and proactive work ethics has surprisingly not been as easy as I would have thought. For every great person I find, I go through about 3 or 4 who prove that they care very little about their work or the company they work for.
Advice for Designers – Being responsible means that you take it upon yourself to achieve the best results you can every time you work on a project, and that you can be counted on to perform your work when you are scheduled to, when you are asked to, and when you have deadlines to meet that may necessitate overtime. Being responsible means letting other people who count on you know if you have to take a sick day, if you can’t finish something in the time you are given, or if you been assigned something that is not within your capabilities. Being responsible means that you care immensely how your actions effect other people, and as a designer, you are cognizant about what you have to do and when, and you strive to keep the people around you (including clients and co-workers) happy and motivated to continue working with you.
Being proactive means that you “go the extra mile” and do things without being asked first, because you know they are the right things to do, and/or would benefit you, your co-workers or your company. You spend time after work to add a special touch to a design, or to better learn a creative tool. You approach your supervisors and ask to be given more of the type of work you’re interested in. You offer thoughtful suggestions and ideas that help increase your company’s productivity, its success, it profitability. You help a coworker learn a new software package. You reach out and follow-up with someone on a topic of discussion rather than hanging-back and waiting for an email to appear in your mailbox. In essence, you are good at “taking the bull by the horns” and making things happen rather than waiting for them to happen on their own.
In the rather competitive design world, it’s important a designer is both these things. If you are not responsible, it won’t take long for people to learn they can’t depend on you, and work coming your way will dry up. If you’re employed as a designer somewhere and you are not responsible, you will lose your job (there is no doubt about that one). If you do not make efforts to be proactive, you will not be thought of as an invaluable team member, but rather as just an asset that is likely easy to replace. Do not underestimate the value of being proactive. It is the key element that separates great, thoughtful designers who enjoy bright, progressive careers from those that just collect their paycheck and remain cubicle gophers for life.
Posted on February 8, 2010 - by Lisa Nalewak
This is the 5th in a series of articles on Graphic Design specifically written for Business Professionals.
The topic of “Resolution” is probably the most common area of misunderstanding among people when dealing with graphics, even more so than color formats. Resolution of an image refers to the density of color information found within a certain area of the graphic. The higher the density of color information, the sharper and more clear the image. The lower the density of color information, the lower the sharpness and detail of the image.
There are two ways to communicate resolution. One is using a DPI value, or dots per inch value. (A dot is equal to a pixel on your screen, which displays at 72dpi). The more dots per inch in an image, the higher the image’s resolution. If you can envision this it makes sense: squishing 600 separate color dots in an inch of space gives you more precise control on the color in that area than if you had only 100 dots. DPI is the standard that most people use because it quickly communicates the image’s overall quality and its intended use.
Another is by using the width and height of an image in pixels or it’s Pixel Dimensions, and it’s actual size in inches. “Actual Size” refers to the intended physical dimensions of the image when it’s displayed, either electronically, or in print.
For example, a 900 pixel x 900 pixel image that is 3 inches x 3 inches in actual size is going to be a higher quality image than a 300 pixel x 300 pixel image at 3 inches x 3 inches in actual size. If you have acute math skills, you can probably already see that you can use this information to determine an image’s DPI, and that they are in fact two ways to measure the same value. For those that don’t see, we’ll touch upon how to do that in a few paragraphs.
Another measurement of a graphic is its “File Size”. This will be reported in kilobits, or megabits, and sometimes even gigabits. This is the actual amount of memory the image’s file takes up on a computer. File Size is different from DPI, Pixel Dimensions and Actual Size values, so don’t get confused. The only relation File Size has to resolution is that higher resolution images take up more memory space, because there is more color data to remember. File Size is not needed to determine DPI or to alter image resolutions.
Resolution of an Image
Resolution is important because different types of graphic applications require different resolution values for graphics. This ensures they are viewed correctly and look their best in their different applications.
Web based (or electronic) graphics need to be 72dpi at actual size. This is for two reasons, 1) so that the image’s file size is as small as possible for good load times and 2) because your average monitor’s resolution is 72dpi and it will generally display graphics at 72 dots per inch, and no more.
A printing press needs much more color information to make type and other small details clear and crisp when viewed at arm’s length. So, graphics for printed material need to be a minimum of 300dpi at actual size. Graphics printed at a lower resolution than 300dpi will look “fuzzy” or pixilated.
The formula for determining DPI is:
DPI = height in pixels / height in inches OR width in pixels / width in inches.
You can use either dimension, because graphics are proportional, and the width’s DPI will always be the same as the height’s DPI.
Determining DPI of an existing graphic
Let’s say we have a graphic on our system for which we’d like to determine the DPI value. We open up our graphic in a software program like Photoshop, and check the Image Size. This will give us the dimensions of the image in pixels, for both width and height. In our example, the image is 900 pixels wide x 900 pixels high.
Next, we use the rulers in our software to determine the actual size of the image. Since we are interested in a dots per inch value, and not a dots per centimeter or millimeter value, I set inches as my ruler unit. I open up my ruler and I see that my image is 3 inches wide by 3 inches tall.
Next, to determine the DPI of this image, I solve the following equation:
DPI = 900/3, or 300 pixels/inch. Simple enough!
Our image is 300 dpi at the actual size of 3” x 3”. This means that if we were to print this image, it would print out at 3” wide x 3” wide at 300 dots per inch.
Don’t Mix and Match!
Now, if we were to display this image on a monitor, what do you think would happen? Since monitors are set to display images at 72dpi, and not 300dpi, the monitor would display our image at 72 dpi, meaning that the physical size of the image would need to increase to get all 900 pixels of information along each side to display. So it would end up being a much larger physical size than 3” x 3”. In fact, it would display that image at 300/72nds the physical size of our print image, or at 4.17 times the size of the original image, or at approximately 12.5” x 12.5” inches on our monitor. This is why images that are set up for print look so much bigger on a monitor than they do when they are printed.
The reverse is true as well. If we have an image that is 3” x 3” in actual size, but it’s been created to display on a monitor, and its resolution is 72dpi, what do you think will happen when it’s printed out on paper at 300dpi? Yup, it will print at 72/300ths of the size it appears on a monitor, or just under 25% of it’s actual size, which is .75” x .75”. This is actually smaller than most postage stamps! A little hard to see, no doubt.
This is why it is terribly important that a graphic is created using the correct DPI measurement for whatever use it’s intended.
File Size and Resolution
As mentioned above, the File Size of a graphic is affected by its resolution. The higher the DPI, and the larger the actual size of the graphic, the more color information the file needs to incorporate, so the bigger the actual file size.
Another factor is the amount of color, and the amount of color difference in a graphic. White does not take up much memory, because it is basically void of color to a graphic program. Black is actually a mix of many colors, particularly in process printing, so it takes up a lot more memory than white. If you have a broad range of different colors and lots of color detail, and colors change in almost every pixel of your graphic, the file will be much larger than if there are big areas of the same color and less color diversity.
Once you become familiar with resolution and graphics, you can sometimes get a feel for a file’s DPI and Actual Size by just viewing the graphic to see what it looks like, and then by checking its file size, but this comes with practice and is NOT meant to be a way to determine true DPI or Actual Size. It’s merely a way to just eyeball an estimate before you begin your actual measuring.
Posted on February 1, 2010 - by Lisa Nalewak
This is the 4th in a series of articles on Graphic Design specifically written for Business Professionals.
Spot Color refers to a printing process that uses specially colored inks to attain a very specific color when printed. Each individual ink is a unique color, and is a careful combination of pigments that are mixed in very exact proportions each time the ink is created, so that the ink is always the same color when laid down on paper, or on other substrates. Unlike process color, which uses cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks to lay down dots on paper that, when viewed from a distance, can create the entire color spectrum, spot color inks are usually laid down on paper to represent its color, and its color only (or a screen thereof, which is a lighter version of that color).
There are a number of companies that produce spot color inks. The largest and most well known in the design industry is Pantone (www.Pantone.com). Pantone has created a color matching system that is used by designers and printers to guarantee exact color matches whenever an ink is mixed and printed. Pantone sells Pantone Matching System (or PMS) booklets and “color fans” that include chips of all the different inks they produce and how they look on coated and uncoated stocks, so a designer can use these books to see a color when it’s printed, and can show a client how a color will look in “real life”, rather than how it looks on an electronic proof of a piece viewed on a monitor (monitors use RGB color, which will look different than the actual printed color – see my post on RGB color for more information).
These booklets also contain the “recipe” for the colors, so printers know how to mix the inks correctly by using specific amounts of Pantone supplied pigments. Using one of these books to pick an ink color is very much like going to the paint store and picking a paint chip of a color you like, and then bringing it to a person who then mixes it following a very specific “recipe” for getting that exact color paint, every time.
Spot color inks can achieve special effects like neon brightness or a metallic sheen by adding special compounds or pigments to the ink. These effects are not achievable using four-color process (or CMYK) printing. Whenever you see neon ink, or ink with a metallic sheen, it was created using a spot color ink. Whenever you want this sort of effect in a printed piece, you must use a spot color ink.
You can mimic a standard spot color (one without special properties like neon brightness or a metallic effect) by using a combination of the four process colors (cyan, magenta, black and yellow) to achieve the desired color. There are two issues with this, however: 1) color saturation and 2) color consistency.
Color saturation is a measure of a color’s “brightness”. There are some pigments (particularly blues) that when used in a spot color ink are far brighter and more vibrant than can be achieved by trying to mix the same color using the four process colors inks. For example, the bane of every designer is a pantone color called Reflex Blue. As a spot color, it is a vibrant, deep, indigo blue. When printed in it’s four-color equivalent, it’s a light navy blue. The two look very different. There is no color combination using CMYK process inks that can attain the equivalent of Reflex Blue. If you want the Reflex Blue color in a printed piece, you will need to use the Spot Color ink to achieve that result. This is very difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t understand the limitations of four-color process printing versus spot color printing, without seeing the two results printed side-by-side.
Color consistency is how similar a color looks each time it is printed. When process color inks are used to mimic a Spot Color ink, there can be variations in the way the resulting color looks. For example, if the pressman recently filled the magenta ink well on the machine, but the cyan well is getting low, the resulting color may run “hot” on magenta, meaning that the color will have a very full amount of red in it and look “more red”. If you switch the amount of inks in the wells, and the press is full on blue but is getting low on magenta, your color may run “hot” on cyan, and the color will have a bluer look to it. In addition, a pressman will adjust the relationships between the intensities of the four process colors before starting the printing run, so that the resulting printed pieces are as balanced as possible (reds print red and not purple, blues print blue and not green, etc.). While the press is operating, the pressman will also do their best to maintain the color consistency from the first piece to the last. These tweaks during the print process mean that each time a job is run, there is the opportunity for the colors to be balanced differently than in previous runs. If you compare, side-by-side, the same printed piece run two different times on two different four-color process presses, it is not uncommon to see slight differences in colors that should be the same. In contrast, spot colors will almost always look exactly the same.
Because spot colors can have unique color properties, are generally more vibrant than colors created using process color inks, and are more consistent when printed, they are used most frequently to color corporate identity materials. For some companies, particularly large companies with very well known retail brands (McDonald’s, Nike, Coca-cola, etc.), it is extremely important that their brand always look the same. It would not do to see a McDonald’s logo where the red looked a little bit more purple than it should, or have Coca-Cola’s red seem a bit more like an orange. To ensure that these colors always look as consistent as possible, designers are required to define specific spot color inks for these elements when creating art for printed collateral.
Spot colors are also used when consistency is important in evoking a specific response. It is wise to use the same, vibrant spot color blue on an investment firm’s annual report each year, creating a feeling of stability and consistency that is important to a company like a financial institution. It is a good idea to use a spot color for the sunny yellow portion of a travel company’s letterhead, ensuring their customers have the same emotional response each time they interact with communications they receive from that travel company.
Spot colors can also be printed in “screens” or “halftones”, meaning you can print the color in a lighter version of itself by adding spaces between dots of the color to let the paper background show through. On a white piece of paper, a Kelly green spot color ink printed at a 70% screen (meaning 70% of the background will show through the area the ink is printed on) will look like a light mint green. A bright red spot color ink printed on white paper at a 60% screen will look pink. You can sometimes use screens to make a piece appear like it was printed with more than a single spot color ink (like a Kelly green and a mint green) by using different screens of the color in a design.
You can also overprint spot colors, meaning you can print one spot color ink on top of the other during a press run to get a new, third color. In general, you’ll get the best overprint results by using screens. For example, you can use a screen of a spot color yellow and a screen of a spot color blue and to get a green where they overlap. Overprinting is a fairly advanced production technique, and your designer needs to be very knowledgeable about spot color printing in order to realize expected results.
When graphic designers create graphics to be printed in spot-color, they “set” the colors for the graphics they create using “custom” inks that are defined inside their graphic design programs. When using Pantone inks, they set a color for a graphic by picking it’s color code out of a list their design program will display and applying it to the selected graphic. This way, when a printing press outputs these files as printed materials, it understands that it must lay down that specific spot color ink in the areas the designer defined to include that spot color inside the graphics file.
What does this mean to me?
So what things do you need to keep in mind about spot color that’ll make your life easier when you purchase design services or printing services, or need to use or modify art you already have on file?
1) Spot colors allow you to achieve special effects, like neon colors and metallic inks, in your printed collateral.
2) Spot colors are generally more vibrant than colors created using a combination of process color inks, so they are good to use when rich and bold color adds to the overall effect of a design.
3) Spot colors allow you to maintain excellent color consistency across multiple printed pieces and different print runs or output methods.
4) Because of the special properties of Spot Color inks, they are best used when color vibrancy and consistency are very important in the pieces you are printing.
5) Spot colors are generally more expensive to use than four-color process colors.
6) You can add spot colors to four-color process printing, as 5th, 6th and even 7th and 8th colors in a print job to embellish a piece, or add special effects (like a metallic rule line on a page with full-color photographs). The more spot colors you add to a press run, the more expensive the final piece.
7) Spot colors can not be used to achieve full-color printing or inside of full-color graphics (for example, you can’t make the navy blue jacket someone is wearing in a full-color photograph Reflex Blue instead by “applying” that color to the jacket.)
8) You should NOT use spot color art set up for printing in any document you’re creating to be displayed on an electronic device (PowerPoint slides, web graphics, etc.) It’s best to convert these graphics to their RGB equivalents so that they display correctly and so you can tweak the colors to most closely match their Spot Color equivalents.
9) SPOT COLORS LOOK DIFFERENT PRINTED ON PAPER THEN WHEN VIEWED ON A COMPUTER SCREEN. When an able computer application automatically converts Spot Color art you are viewing to its RGB equivalent in order to display it on your monitor, the colors will look different than they do when printed. In some cases, the color variation will be very noticeable, while in other cases it’s not as noticeable.
10) SPOT COLORS LOOK DIFFERENT PRINTED OUT ON A LASER OR INK JET PRINTER THAN THEY LOOK WHEN PRINTED BY A PRINTING PRESS. That is because your desktop printer is converting the spot color ink to its CMYK equivalent for output, and as I explained above, some spot colors translate very poorly to CMYK color because CMYK inks can not approximate the vibrancy of spot color ink pigments.
11) It is imperative that you check the spot color in a booklet prepared by the ink vendor so you can see the exact color it will be when you print it. DO NOT RELY ON YOUR COMPUTER SCREEN OR YOUR DESKTOP PRINTER to proof color for spot color artwork. I should really repeat this as point #12 too, because it is a very important thing to remember. It’s an extremely common mistake people make unknowingly, and then wonder why their printed materials don’t look the way the expect them to look when they get them back from the press.
How to handle Spot Color artwork for electronic display
Yes, this paragraph is a repeat of the one from my RGB and CMYK posts, but I’ll say it again: A good designer will ask you how you plan to use the art they are creating for you, and then will deliver you the art in multiple file formats and in multiple color formats that are matched as closely as possible. In this way, they assure that you have the art you need for any application, whether it’s print or electronic so you don’t experience color surprises down the road.
If you have Spot Color artwork that you need to display electronically or have printed in process color, and you don’t have it in RGB or CMYK format, a knowledgeable designer will be able to convert your Spot Color file to RGB and/or CMYK for you. In most cases, color “rebalancing” will be necessary. The graphic quality of the art you give your designer will also affect the outcome. Higher resolution images generally give better color conversion results.
How to handle Spot Color artwork for Process-Color printing
Because the CMYK equivalents of Spot Colors are often quite different than the Spot Color inks themselves, you must be SURE you want to print your Spot Color artwork using CMYK inks, instead. If you are, ask your designer to color balance the artwork so that when it prints, it’s as close a match as possible to the original Spot Color inks. Some spot color inks translate very poorly to process color (blues, purples and reds are the worst) others aren’t quite as bad, though you will always notice a difference, no matter what the color (unless it’s cyan, magenta, process yellow or process black). An experienced designer will understand how to do this, a bad or inexperienced designer will not.
Posted on January 25, 2010 - by Lisa Nalewak
This is the 3rd in a series of articles on Graphic Design specifically written for Business Professionals.
CMYK stands for “Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black”, and CMYK color – sometimes referred to as “4-color process” or “process” color – is used specifically to produce full-color graphic materials and photographs on a “4-color” printing press. The “4” refers to the number of inks used (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) and “process” refers to a special printing technique that recreates the full spectrum of visible colors using just these four ink colors.
A graphic or photograph that was printed using CMYK color is made up of thousands of overlapping little dots of ink that the press puts down on paper as the paper passes through it. And – yup, you guessed it – those dots are cyan, magenta, yellow and black in color. The angle and density of these different colored dots relative to each other, and the diameter of the dots themselves, affect the color being displayed in a particular part of a printed document.
For example, large yellow and cyan dots placed together without any magenta or black dots nearby will make that part of a document look green. Large magenta and cyan dots with no other colored dots nearby will produce a purple or dark blue. Large dots of all four colors placed together will create a very dark, rich black.
The size of the dots, both in actual dimension and in relation to one another, will change the saturation and hue of the color. For example, using our green example above, if the yellow dots are larger than the cyan dots, the green will look more yellow, or “lime-colored”. If the cyan dots are larger than the yellow dots, the green will look more blue, or “kelly-green”. If the dots are small and let a lot of the background (in this case, white paper) show through, the color will be lighter. If the dots are larger and don’t let as much white show through, the color will be “brighter”, or “darker”. By adjusting the size of each dot relative to the other and the size of the dot to allow more or less of the background show through, you can recreate any color from a light lime yellow to a dark green-blue, and everything in-between. If you add a black dot nearby, adjusting its size and its density relative to the yellow and blue dots will allow you to make the color darker or lighter. If you add magenta, you’ll start to move the color towards any other number of colors depending again on the number of magenta dots relative to the yellow, blue and black dots, and the size of the magenta dot relative to the yellow, blue and black dots.
The graphic below is a good visual explanation of how 4-color process printing works to achieve different color results.
In essence, 4-color process printing uses the same color principles you learned as a kid in art class. Just like mixing the primary colors (red, blue and yellow) on an artist’s palette allowed you to create an entire spectrum of other colors to fingerpaint with, “mixing” our 4 “primary” printing ink colors (or adjusting the size, angle and relative density of each of the 4 colored dots throughout a document) allows a printing press to recreate a good portion of the visible color spectrum, and produce a “full-color” image.
When graphic designers create graphics meant to be printed in full-color – like for brochures, catalogues, magazines, and even for full-color logos or business cards – they “set” the colors for the graphics they create as “CMYK”. This way, when a printing press outputs these files as printed materials, it understands the right density and sizes for each of the four colored dots throughout the document in order to achieve the final desired result.
Some computer programs are able to display CMYK format color graphics on your computer monitor, even though you know (if you read my previous post on RGB color) that monitors use RGB (Red, Green Blue) as their color format instead of CMYK. These programs come with a conversion utility that allows the program to tell your monitor what the appropriate RGB color is for the CMYK colors defined in the graphic, and it’ll display the RGB colors instead. Some programs aren’t able to do this. Web browsers and browser based email applications generally aren’t able to display CMYK graphics at all.
What does this mean to me?
So what things do you need to keep in mind about CMYK color that’ll make your life easier when you purchase design services or printing services, or need to use or modify art you already have on file?
1) The vast majority of full-color, commercial printing equipment use CMYK format color. As a result, PRINTING PRESSES CAN NOT PRINT ARTWORK SET UP IN RGB COLOR. Printing presses have no idea what RGB color is. You may as well stand next to a printing press and try to verbally describe the colors to it yourself for all the good RGB artwork will do you. You must make sure that any artwork you send to a press that is to be printed in full-color is set up in CMYK mode, unless specifically told otherwise by the printer. (I’ll cover other types of full-color printing that use RGB in a later post).
2) You should NOT use CMYK art set up for printing in any document you’re creating to be displayed on an electronic device (PowerPoint slides, web graphics, etc.) If you’ve ever been sent a photo attached to an email that showed up as a little red X that you were unable to view, chances are the photo was in CMYK color, and your monitor or TV couldn’t display it because it was missing the RGB color information it needed to do so. TVs and monitors are as confused by CMYK as much as printing presses are confused by RGB.
3) CMYK COLORS LOOK DIFFERENT PRINTED ON PAPER THAN WHEN VIEWED ON A COMPUTER SCREEN. When an able computer application automatically converts CMYK art you are viewing to its RGB equivalent in order to display it on your monitor, the colors will look different than they do in print. In some cases, the color variation will be very noticeable (blues and purples translate the poorest from CMYK to RGB colors). In other cases it’s not as noticeable. It is imperative that you PRINT OUT AND PROOF CMYK ARTWORK on a color laser jet or inkjet printer in order to get a better approximation of the colors as they will appear when printed using a CMYK press. DO NOT RELY ON YOUR COMPUTER SCREEN to proof printed color. I should really repeat this as point #4, too, because it is a very important thing to remember. It’s an extremely common mistake people make unknowingly, and then wonder why their printed materials don’t look the way the expect them to look when they get them back from the press.
How to handle CMYK artwork for electronic display
Yes, this paragraph is a repeat of the one from my RGB post, but I’ll say it again: A good designer will ask you how you plan to use the art they are creating for you, and then will deliver you the art in multiple file formats and in multiple color formats that are matched as closely as possible. In this way, they assure that you have the art you need for any application, whether it’s print or electronic so you don’t experience color surprises down the road.
If you have CMYK artwork that you need to display electronically and you don’t have it in RGB format, a knowledgeable designer will be able to convert your CMYK file to RGB for you. Easier than converting from RGB to CMYK, converting from CMYK to RGB can sometimes still require color rebalancing for a “true” color match. The graphic quality of the art you give your designer will also affect the outcome. Higher resolution images generally give better color conversion results.
Posted on January 18, 2010 - by Lisa Nalewak
This is the 2nd in a series of articles on Graphic Design specifically written for Business Professionals.
RGB color stands for “Red Green Blue”, and RGB color is used specifically for electronic display of graphics and images. All colors generated on TVs and computer screens are a result of the combination of red, blue and green light emitted by electronics inside each device.
A TV screen or computer monitor is made up of thousands of little “bulbs” or pixels that sit very close to each other, and together make up your whole screen. Every pixel has the capacity to be its own color. Every color displayed in each of these pixels is a balance of the intensity of light for each of these three colors as they overlap in the same pixel at the same time. When viewed from a distance, these differently colored pixels make up a whole picture, and allow for variations of color across the entire screen.
When graphic designers create graphics that are meant to be displayed electronically — like for web sites or PowerPoint presentations or for CDs or DVDs — they “set” the colors for the graphics they create as “RGB”. This way, the electronic device displaying the graphic knows what balance of red, green and blue light to use for each pixel that makes up the graphic. In addition, your graphic will display consistently on every RGB device.
RGB colors are defined by using specific values for each color to create all the unique colors of the spectrum. The highest value for one color is 255, which means that color is being displayed at its brightest. The lowest value for one color is 0, which means that color is essentially “turned off”. By combining different values for each of the three colors, a computer monitor or TV screen essentially mimics the entire visible spectrum.
For example, a pure, bright red color has the RGB value of 255, 0, 0. That means the red value is set at 255, the green value at 0 and the blue value at 0, or R=255, G=0, B=0. A pure bright green has the RGB value of 0, 255, 0. A pure bright blue is 0, 0, 255. Black is 0, 0, 0, or the absence of light. White is 255, 255, 255, or the inclusion of all light (I’m starting to sound like your high school physics teacher, aren’t I?). The higher the color values for each color, the lighter the shade. The lower the color values for each color, the darker the shade.
What does this mean to me?
So what things do you need to keep in mind about RGB color that’ll make your life easier when purchasing design services or artwork, or when you need to use or modify art you already have on file?
1) The vast majority of machinery used to produce printed materials does not use the RGB color format to define colors. Instead, it uses inks or combinations of inks to approximate the hues of the spectrum. As a result, RGB COLORS DO NOT MATCH THEIR EQUIVALENT PRINTED COLORS. They are two completely different ways of generating colors so the end result is different as well.
2) You can NOT use art set up for printing (ie. NOT set up in RGB color format), on an electronic device. If you’ve ever been sent a photo attached to an email that showed up as a little red X that you were unable to view, chances are the photo was not set up in RGB color, and your monitor or TV couldn’t display it because it was missing the RGB color information it needed to do so.
When you try to print RGB artwork, or convert RGB artwork to the appropriate color format for printing, you will get a color shift. That means the closest color used in printing for the RGB color you see on a screen will look different from each other when held up side by side. In some cases it’s very different (blues and purples translate the poorest from RGB to print colors). In other cases it’s not as noticeable.
You must be prepared for this color difference. I’ve had many, many customers come to me in the past who were upset with previous artists or printers, because artwork they pulled off their website or out of a PowerPoint presentation did not print out on their LaserJet or on their business cards as the same color that they saw on their screen.
This was not the designer’s fault: the designer created RGB artwork for use on the Website or inside a PowerPoint presentation, not for print. This was not the printers fault: they printed what the client gave them to print, in this case a file that was originally created in RGB to view on a screen. Ultimately, the problem arose because the art was being used in the way for which it was not created. This is why it’s extremely important that you ask your designer to create artwork specifically for the use you intend, just so you can avoid color suprises and conversion pitfalls.
How to handle RGB artwork for print
A good designer will ask you how you plan to use the art they are creating for you, and then will deliver you the art in multiple file formats and in multiple color formats that are matched as closely as possible. In this way, they assure that you have the art you need for any application, whether it’s print or electronic so you don’t experience color surprises down the road.
If you have RGB artwork that you need printed and you don’t have it in another color format specifically set up for print, a knowledgeable designer will be able to convert your RGB file to print color formats for you. How they accomplish this, and how well they accomplish this is based on the type of file you give them, and on the graphic quality of the file. Art that is still in it’s ‘source’ or ‘editable’ form is easiest to work with, and the higher the resolution quality of the artwork, the better the result. The more complex the art, and the poorer the resolution, the harder it is to achieve a good conversion result. If a file is “flattened” (meaning all the art elements are in a single layer inside the artwork and can’t be “lifted” and moved around independently of one another), the lower the quality of the result.
Ultimately, it’s up to your designer to recommend what they believe is the best way to handle an RGB-to-Print color conversion, but they can’t accomplish this until you understand why you need it done and ask that they do it for you.
Posted on January 11, 2010 - by Lisa Nalewak
This is the 1st in a series of articles on Graphic Design specifically written for Business Professionals.
There are multiple methods used to create and display color in the world today, and as a result, there are multiple ways to represent or define color in the various graphic design applications and production methods used to create graphics for these different mediums.
Understanding how computers and the printing industry use and define color is paramount to helping you understand the limitations of graphic production, so you can make educated choices when choosing a particular process for a particular job and get the best result for your buck. It is also helpful in setting realistic expectations, so you are not disappointed by the outcome.
The most common ways of discussing color in the design world are as RGB, CMYK and Spot colors values. RGB color is used for electronic display, on monitors, TVs and inside applications that are used to create content for these mediums. CMYK color is used to create full color printed graphics. Spot color is used to create printed graphics where specific colors must always look exactly the same and where slight color variations are not acceptable, even when printed on different substrates and by different printers and presses. Spot color is most commonly used in printing logos and brand marks, where consistency of presentation is paramount to building a product or company’s image.
In following entries, I will provide an introduction to these three popular color formats and the design/production challenges associated with each.
Posted on January 4, 2010 - by Lisa Nalewak
This is the introduction for a series of articles on Graphic Design specifically written for Business Professionals.
Having frolicked on both sides of the design fence (as a consumer of graphic design, web design and printing services and as a provider of those same services), I know there are plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings that can minimize the efficiency of a vendor/client relationship. Most, if not all, of these situations are avoidable as long as each side takes a little bit of time to get to know the world the other lives in.
The goal of my Graphics for Business Professionals article series is to help business people understand the graphic designer’s world a little better. When a business professional is able to clearly articulate their desires and needs to a graphic designer, and when they have a solid understanding of the design process and the realities of creating graphic materials, they are better able to direct designers to achieve specific results. In return, designers are more likely to deliver exactly what the business professional wants — and more quickly, too. It’s a win-win situation.
Each Graphics for Business Professionals entry will discuss a particular design topic and discuss the fundamentals, with special emphasis on those issues most relevant to the business professional. Topics will range from specifics (What is RGB color, for example) to broader discussions (What is good design, anyway?).
Discussion on these topics is highly encouraged. While I may be somewhat wizened in the ways of graphics, my knowledge is limited to my personal experience, and for every topic I discuss, there are two others that people can teach me more about.
I also encourage readers to contact me with suggestions for topics you’d like to see included. This is, after all, a tool to help YOU do your job better, and I’m happy to delve into the graphics world to cover topics of common interest. (It doesn’t hurt that I like to talk either, so keep the ideas coming!)
Thanks for stopping by.