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The Power of Neutral Gray

(March 2009) posted on Sun Mar 08, 2009

This article will explore how to harness neutral gray to benefit print production.


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By Mike Ruff

Neutral gray is a term used frequently in the graphics-reproduction business but seldom put into practice correctly. The misuse of such a powerful tool is tragic, because neutral gray gives printers the ability to accurately show a client what their creation looks like and then enables the print provider to accurately reproduce what the client intended for their final product. The principles of neutral-gray printing apply to all sorts of processes, screen and digital printing among them.

Neutral gray is so potent that when it’s applied after the printer addresses solid ink color, times for press setups that require critical color output can drop by more than 50%. The process involves simply correcting the solid colors, then calibrating and printing to neutral. There is power in understanding neutral gray, and this article will explore how to harness it to benefit print production.

Color control



Unfortunately, our industry has accepted a culture of visual color control. What a disaster! We forgot neutral gray and print accuracy. We even forgot to teach our prepress people and press operators about neutral gray and print accuracy. The introduction of the inline press had screen printers inviting clients to come and stand at the end of the press and sign-off on their creation. Neutral gray didn’t matter. Accuracy to a print target was replaced by subjective opinion and hours of wasted press time. I’ve even heard production managers explain to clients that screen printing is not capable of matching a proof. Now I see the same behavior among users of wide-format digital printers.

Hours of wasted press time wasn’t so bad when prices were high, compe-tition was weak, and runs were long. That has drastically changed. Runs are not long. Profits are not large. We just cannot afford to use very expensive screen or digital equipment as proofing devices. The solution is fourfold:

1. Make sure the clients see an accurate visual representation of what they have created.
2. Make sure we create an accurate visual representation on the color target proof.
3. Print an accurate visual representation of the file.
4. Approve color based on an accurate visual representation of the file.


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