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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

The creator of a file and the person who inspects and prepares the file for output must pay attention to the monitor. You can judge the accuracy of a monitor by determining how well it maintains the neutral gray. I know the brightness and other gamma corrections are important; however, color inaccuracies show up in the grays. If the grays are neutral on the monitor, then what we see has no color cast. The image on screen is a very accurate representation of the file. You can test this very easily with an RGB file. PostScript Level Two divides color into 256 gray levels, including white and black. One half of 256 grays is gray level 128. This is your midtone gray. So you can easily build gray level 128 midtone gray in Photoshop. Set the RGB color to 128 red, 128 green, and 128 blue. The color you see should be neutral. In other words, you should not see a red, green, blue, or yellow cast.

Having a neutral gray also gives you a chance to perform a simple gray-balance test in the Adobe Photoshop’s Variations mode (Image>Adjustments>Variations). The Variation mode gives you color choices on images you view. You can see the neutral gray shift if red, green, or blue shifts in the variation’s pallet. This demonstrates how gray balance is powerful in shifting the color. You also can be assured any color correction you make to the file will show up on a balanced gray color bar viewed on a monitor.

Neutral gray in proofing

I’ve rarely found a proof that is neutral in my travels to numerous print shops around the country. And seldom have I found a digital printing device that is calibrated to neutral. Our industry should be disturbed because the printer is actually showing the client a color cast he has added to the file. This leads a lot of finger pointing between the client and the printer when the client produces a proof and the printer produces a proof and the two do not look the same.

Who’s right?


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