Why Do Colours Look Different?

Colour is a funny thing. Each and every device has a different way of displaying colours on its screen, and each and every printer prints the same colour slightly differently. It’s a crazy colourful world out there, and us designers are right in the middle of it. So how does it all work?

What are colours made of?

The colours we see on paper and on screen are made up of a mixture of base colours. On paper, the colours we see are created with pigment. On screen, colours are created with light. On both mediums we mix different values of base colours to get the particular shades we want. It’s a lot like a paint shop. For print, the base colours are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK). Our base colours on screens are Red, Green and Blue (RGB). We get a huge variety of shades by mixing up different ratios of these base colours.

However, the technical differences between screen/light and paper/pigment can create some problems. We develop artwork on a computer using RGB, and later print it in CMYK. This means we have to convert RGB to CMYK, and this conversion may produce slightly different shades of our chosen brand colours.

Sometimes we like to print with specialty inks called Pantones. These are specific mixtures of inks outside of the conventional CMYK production. The benefits of Pantone inks are that they’ll look relatively standard coming out of any printer in the world! They can also be brighter and more vibrant that normal printer colours. The drawbacks are that printing with Pantones requires a special offset press, and is often more expensive. We try to work with colours that are reproducible in both CMYK and Pantone whenever possible.

Colour matching is really, really hard.

Like we mentioned before, every screen and every printer are configured slightly differently, and will produce slightly different colours. You will likely notice many small differences when comparing the same image produced from different sources. For example, our office printer favours magenta while one of our client’s printers leans a little more on yellow. Let’s say we try and print the Dc Design House logo on both printers and compare.

Why do Colours Look Different? | DcDesignHouse.ca
This is just a simulation but you will notice that the logo on the left is royal blue while the one on the right is a little green.

Have you ever viewed a website on your phone and then checked it on your computer? Why not compare both screens, side by side, and tell us what you see? You might see a brighter version of the website on your phone and a more muted version on your computer.

Looking Forward

There are many factors that dictate how we will see a particular colour. Understanding this up front can help us mitigate the slight differences between various publications and screens. If you ever need to know what something looks like on a calibrated device, let us know! We can help standardize your colours for a more consistent representation.

Do you have a question you want answered? Contact us or leave it in the comments and you may see it in a future edition of What the FAQ?!