Color is complex. For something so instrumental to our daily lives, the world of color is a deep rabbit hole of subtle nuances and inconsistent schools of thought. In this post, we explore color at a high level and arm you with some of the technical details you need to know about color and your brand.
Color can be represented in a wide array of models. Each of these models have different color spaces. At a very high level, this is what you need to know about color models:
Digital: color as display by light.
Print: color represented with ink.
Perceptual: color as perceived by the human eye.
The color spectrum the human eye can interpret surpasses what can be presented in both digital and print color models. The way color is perceived is also subjective and can differ person to person. Perceptual color is often used to convert color between digital and print color models. This is regularly accomplished using ICC color profiles.
Converting between color spaces for various devices is a fairly complex process. It’s difficult to represent colors displayed on digital screen via printed mediums. Each printer has slightly different capabilities when mixing ink, and each medium being printed on (i.e. coated vs. uncoated paper, shirts, mugs, etc.) will respond differently to the ink.
Not long ago the International Color Consortium (ICC) was formed to tackle the problem. A quick bit of history from their about page:
“The International Color Consortium was established in 1993 by eight industry vendors for the purpose of creating, promoting and encouraging the standardization and evolution of an open, vendor-neutral, cross-platform color management system architecture and components. The outcome of this co-operation was the development of the ICC profile specification.”
The first time I read that, it blew my mind. We have a color consortium working to standardize how the world uses color?! Who would of thought?
ICC color profiles are now widely used for color conversion between digital and print devices. When working with various printers, you might be sent a specific device ICC profile to calibrate your print job with. Two common workspace color profiles for digital and print are:
Digital RGB: sRGB IEC61966-2.1
Print CMYK: U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2
These profiles are usually the defaults on most Adobe products, and are usually already installed on your computer. The download links are provided for reference.
Each color mode has numerous color spaces. Color spaces represent color in various formats. For example, the purple block displayed can be represented in both digital (left side) and print (right side) using the following values:
When it comes to branding you will most likely encounter color represented in the following formats:
RGB (digital): RGB stands for Red, Green, Blue and refers to the user of color generated by light. Not all representations of light are equal, and the way color appears from one digital device to the next can appear to be different. To really have consistent digital color, each device would need to be calibrated. RGB values will typically be represented with three digits between 0 and 255; though you will sometimes encounter three values between 0 and 1 in decimal form.
For example: 139, 25, 155 where R=139, G=25, B=155
Hex (digital): Hexadecimal format is just another way of representing RGB values. Typically you will see Hex values starting with a hash (#) followed by either three or six alpha numeric characters ranging from 0-9 and a-f.
For example: #8b189B produces the above purple.
CMYK (print): CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (black) and is the most common print color space. CMYK can be a bit inconsistent from device to device as the color is being blended at the time of print. Each printing device has different capabilities, so to achieve print perfection each device will need to be calibrated. CMYK values will typically be represented with four digits between 0-100; though you will sometimes encounter three values between 0 and 1 in decimal form.
For example: 56, 99, 0, 0 where C=56, M=99, Y=0, K=0
PANTONE (print): Is a proprietary color space used primarily in the printing industry but also has been used with manufacturing colored paint, plastics and fabric. When brands will be used in print, it’s a really good idea to select PANTONE colors. The main advantage of PANTONE over CMYK is PANTONE colors are premixed, where CMYK colors are mixed during print. Using PANTONE colors, a brand can maintain color consistency since PANTONE is always responsible for mixing the ink color. PANTONE color values can be represented in various ways, but typically start with either PMS or PANTONE and end in either C for Coated or U for Uncoated.
For example: PANTONE 2602 C, is the ink code for the above purple.
Color goes deep, but it’s a critical component of how a brand is recognized. With the information above you will be armed with the knowledge necessary to maintain color consistency as your brand is spread through various mediums.