Four-color Printing--is It Worth The Price?
Four-Color printing can add a dimension to your marketing materials that can be much more dramatic than simple one or two-color printing. One or two-color printing isn't necessarily inferior to four-color, but the question should be: is four-color printing really necessary for the project on hand?
Many clients and designers often feel that four-color process printing gives them the most design flexibility. With four-color process printing, any color imaginable can be created, photographs can be reproduced in color and many different colored screen tints are possible giving a designer an almost limitless palette.
If you're trying to produce a show-and-tell brochure where photographs are vital to explain a service, process or product, then 4-color process printing is probably necessary.
Four-color printing is expensive. Generally, the same brochure quoted as 4-color vs. two-color can easily be as much as 400% more expensive. If you have photographs, they will need to be color separated, that is, each one will require four pieces of film (one for cyan, magenta, yellow and black). Simple one or two-color printing would have fewer negatives, resulting in less stripping and plating costs and less time in setting the press up.
Trying to reproduce some PMS (Pantone Matching System) colors using four-color process can be difficult if not impossible with some colors. Often a client will have a logo or design element that has been printed on past materials as a PMS spot color and are upset when the same color cannot be created accurately using four-color process.
Most four-color printing requires coated paper stock in order to produce the best color fidelity. While you can print four-color process on uncoated and textured stock, many clients find the softness and lack of contrast of the printed reproductions to be less than desirable when uncoated stock is used.
Often it is necessary to varnish or apply liquid lamination to large four-color areas or large solid areas in order to limit finger printing, especially on brochure and pocket folder covers. This is sometimes viewed as an option, but is really necessary to make sure a quality piece makes a great first impression.
Four-color printing also requires proofing of all color proofs prior to printing to ensure true color fidelity, and it is a common practice for the client and designer to be present during press runs to approve all color and supervise press adjustments if necessary.
Achieving Color Quality
Avoid doing color separation work yourself unless you have the pre-press expertise to create separations that are truly first rate. Four-color process printing is very exacting and not forgiving of poor quality desktop color. I would recommend using a printer who will output film and do his own color separations in-house or who will at least take responsibility for the quality and color of separations provided on disk.
If you get several printing quotations, don't assume that the lowest bidder will necessarily deliver as good a print job as the high bidder or that because someone who is more expensive will deliver a better quality job. Be sure to look at samples of a printer's work, especially projects that are similar in size and complexity as your project.
If you're working with a new printer, be sure to get a number of samples of their work (and similar to the project you've had quoted). If you're on a tight deadline or the project is very complex, be sure to get some references from the printer; ask about the printer's ability to deliver as promised and how they deal with potential problems.
All printers are not created equal because printers vary in terms of press sizes and what is considered their ideal printing project. A printer with a smaller press might be more economical, but might have greater limitations and could deliver a less than first-rate job. Make sure that the printer you select has the equipment and expertise to handle your project.
Before your project is printed, be sure to look at matchprint proofs to make sure you are happy with the quality of the color separations. Many printers will allow you to critically examine the first color proofs and make color adjustments, providing you with a second set of color proofs prior to printing.
Press proofing is another way to make sure you have no surprises after your brochure is printed. Usually press proofing is done by the project's designer or the printing sales representative handling the job. Press proofing isn't really that mysterious. Things to look for during a press proof are color fidelity by comparing the printed sheet against the matchprint proof. You also will want to look at solid areas making sure there are no dust spots creating white specks. Be sure to inspect small type or type that is created using screens or reversed out of a color background.
Generally, minor color adjustments can be made to enhance or create final color balance in a four-color piece, however, extensive color adjustments on-press is not the way to correct poor quality color separations.
While slight color adjustments on-press is perfectly acceptable, keep in mind that any color adjustments will affect the length of the sheet; that is, anything ahead of or behind the area affected by color adjustments on press will be affected as it passes through the press.
The bottom line is to consider carefully the reasons to use four-color process in the first place, and to work within the printing limitations of your printer, taking care not to cut corners so your project will be of the highest quality.
About the Author: Vann Baker is the president of Design-First, a marketing company specializing in corporate identity and collateral development. Vann has been helping small businesses and Fortune 500 companies to create brochures, newsletters, catalogs, websites and more for over 20 years. www.design-first.com