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Color Management for Screen Printing

(August 2013) posted on Wed Sep 18, 2013

Removing variables in evaluating and controlling color is critical to quality on press.

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By Thomas Trimingham

The easiest way to adjust your monitor is to use a visual reference, making sure the subtle shadows and highlights are recognizable and don’t show an incorrect color cast. Also go through all of the computers in use in your company and compare a color reference to all of them to ensure that they all display the proper detail and hue qualities. It is very common for the computers in sales to be tuned different from those in the art department—and then, even the various computers inside the art department may display a wide variety of values and contrasts using the same image if they are not adjusted all together.

Of course, you can’t control customers’ computers on the other end of the viewing process, so it is a good idea to standardize your proof output if you send customers digital files to review. A couple of tips for this include:

1. Convert all files for customer review to RGB so the images can easily be viewed on monitors, phones, and on computers using a variety of software applications. Be careful about sending reduced-gamut CMYK files, spot colors, or other multi-channel color files because they may cause dramatic color shifts on the customer side.

2. Reduce the size of all images to be sent in e-mail or through a Web-based application. Excessive file size may cause color or display problems, and large files may be rejected by e-mail servers or firewalls.

3. Always ask clients to review a basic, Web-based color chart, or send new clients a color chart that is properly calibrated for your monitors and standard inkset. This way, you can use this reference in case the client has an improperly adjusted display and insist they compare the proof to colors from this reference in case of a client-side color question.

4. Include a small disclaimer on the bottom of color proofs to clarify that colors may vary slightly from what is shown due to the nature of the screen-printed garment. Pantone simulations that are created with screen-printing inks may vary slightly from those created using offset inks. If you feel this may scare customers, you can just post it on the color reference or address it when it comes up, but it is always better to be prepared when a client wants an exact color match to a printed piece or collateral.

From monitors to garments
It is a simple matter to match a color from a monitor or print to a screen-printing ink by using any of the color-mixing systems from popular manufacturers of screen-printing inks, as long as the color calibration front end is properly done. It is also a good idea to check with your local screen-printing supplier from time to time to see if any new matching systems have come out.

Many computer manufacturers have different methods of calibrating a monitor, depending on your environment. If you need controls that are more strict than what’s common in garment printing (as in high-detail flat-stock or decal printing), it is a good idea to research different ink companies to find the latest solutions. A little background work in color calibration will save you some serious dollars by helping you avoid costly mistakes.

Thomas Trimingham has worked in screen printing for more than 21 years as an industry consultant, freelance artist, and high-end separator. He is an award-winning illustrator, designer, and author of more than 110 articles on screen-printing art and separations. For more information, contact him through his Website,



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