Hit the Bullseye in terms of Colour Representation

Tip 40 for Better Shoots by Heidi Rondak

“The Post-Production 101” 

PART C.4: Hit the Bullseye in terms of Colour Representation

We have managed to go through 39 tips and are finally reaching tip no. 40. In this last of articles belonging to this series, we continue talking about colours on screens and printed mediums, albeit a little more detailed. We will meet the challenges of different displays in order to make elaborate decisions in the post-production of campaigns and marketing content with no nasty surprises. However, we should always keep in mind one thing: Colour can be very subjective. While some people have deficiencies when it comes to seeing colours, like e.g. dyschromatopsia – mainly suffered by individuals with only one X chromosome, others seem to have extraordinary colour vision. Yet, colour experiences can’t be shared between humans. Nevertheless, there are ways to measure colour and brightness values with machines that help to adjust image outputs. This way, we can do everything in our power to balance out almost perfect prints and digital placements of images.

Beware of tints of colour

A piece of bad news first: all screens produce different images due to varying settings and colour spaces used. As described in the last article, screens are showing RGB colours, however, there are various popular versions that slightly differ between devices. Some providers also count on cooler or warmer screens or higher contrasts that falsify images. Additionally, users can individually change their displays to be brighter or darker, or to emit bluer or yellower light, e.g. when they make use of the option to have night shifts. This makes it hard to estimate how exactly a picture will look on somebody else’s screen. The good news is that people get used to e.g. yellower screens and due to the fact that everything displayed on them seems warmer their brains suggest that it’s seeing neutral colours. However, the danger lies in your own screen – if it’s not calibrated you might judge the images to have an unwanted colour tint and try to have it fixed. This can be very challenging in the communication with editors, etc. To prevent these sorts of troubles, you’re well-advised to use a calibrator for your devices and set your screens to ideal colour representation. With good screens as a foundation, you’ll see the best versions of your photos instead of adapting them to bad screen conditions. The latter might imply that they’re displayed in catastrophic ways on really calibrated screens because they were optimised on the wrong basis.

Another bad side effect of poorly calibrated screens and images edited on them can be tinded print results. By trying to balance any seeming tints in the digital file it can happen that, in fact, actual tints are added to the printing data. To prevent this, printing companies also offer so-called ”proofs” which are described below. They also play a role in the preparation of files for printing on a specific paper. Since paper can react differently to printing techniques, it can be necessary to keep in mind whether its properties have any effects on the result. Especially, uncoated paper or sorts with pigments contained in their structure can falsify colours printed on them because they mix up or sink in differently. For some offset prints, it’s, therefore, necessary to draw on further rounds of printing special colours apart from going through the four rollers with CMYK. This can be primers, topcoats, lacquers, or spot colours that can’t be merged with cyan, magenta, and yellow. Firms like HKS and Pantone produce these colours for different printing technologies.

Approaching a good appearance of black

Black is a delicate matter when it comes to screens as well as prints. Because seeing black means the absence of reflected or emitted light, due to their LCD backlights, most screens can’t in fact show any completely black pixels. Newer technologies like OLED displays can, however, approach it much better. Nevertheless, the representation of black on screens isn’t, usually, 100 percent accurate and it can be the cause for too dark prints as well. While pigments mixing up absorb more light, as described in the last article, photos on screens might appear overall brighter and contain great detail in the darks. However, this may be giving reason to edit them darker than necessary. Then, in print, not only do the blacks turn darker – which is desirable – but also the shadows tend to swallow up much detail that was formerly seen on the screen.  Consequently, judging images and their blacks on screens should be treated with caution, especially if they are getting prepared for print. The tendency here should be to have them edited a little too bright in order to achieve satisfying results on paper. For this, and for the colours, colour proofs are useful tools as per the description that follows.

Get the best out of proofs

In case you have the intention to print images or have them displayed on specific mediums it can be necessary to prepare them in terms of colour management. For this purpose, so-called proofs can be advisable. They mean two different ways of managing colours and verifying them for the printing process or other output devices. First, there is to mention soft proofs. These ICC profiles are in a manner of speaking add-ons to software that can be loaded into and exerted, for example, in Photoshop to look at the images from the perspective of the end result. This is made possible because soft proofs contain data about the colour and contrast representation in the output – whether it’s a print or another digital device they simulate how pictures are going to look on them. This enables the editor to adapt and optimise images for better results on the final medium but from their very own workspace and device. Thus, it is important to work on a calibrated monitor, and needless to say, to activate the exact right soft proof for each project, possibly even for each sort of paper used. Otherwise, the results can have unwanted colour tints owed to the falsification of colours and contrasts.

As another early step in the process of printing safely, test prints are a way to improve the properties of files according to the printing method. Holding the first prints in your hands you can get an impression of whether it complies with your aspirations. Furthermore, the specialist, namely the printer as well as the graphic designer in charge, can examine the sheet carefully for flaws and, eventually, either adjust the machines or the data before the due date arrives. 

Digital soft proof
Offset printing process and proof

The digital print turns your knowledge upside down

When it comes to small numbers of prints falling back on the digital print technique might be the right solution for you. As a general rule, the offset method as seen above in the video is more profitable when printing lavishly, that is to say, many copies. Among others, the manufacture of printing plates and the need for cleaning the machines after each pattern are the reasons for offset being so high-priced. Digital printing, on the other hand, is what we all know from our (miniature) home and office printers. In the process of this method, inkjets or laser printers, respectively their software, translate RGB images into rasterised signals that can be imprinted on paper or other material. This way, unique copies, as well as small to medium amounts of prints, can be produced more cheaply. The important thing to remember about digital prints is that they are not set to CMYK manually. High-resolution RGB files can be printed right away and if the printer is well-maintained, the printheads calibrated and the tanks fuelled up with enough ink, the results can be equally impressive. With some service providers, digital prints can even be upgraded with special colours, imprints, and coatings.


Sighting your finalised project – whether it’s printed or not – is, usually, accompanied by a feeling of satisfaction. Apart from being the medium of acquisition and advertisement, the photos for your campaign or marketing contents embody your efforts, endurance, flexibility, and creative mind as well as organisational and communicational skills as a client. Photo productions are always teamwork – a group of people with diverse expertise meet to realise valuable work together that couldn’t be done by only one of them alone. However, understanding a little bit of everyone’s perspective and being able to optimise at least one’s visions and demands if not any steps of the production is powerful potential – a potential that can, after all, unfold in better photoshoots and results. After five years, this series of articles is finally coming to an end successfully and I’m grateful I could possibly give handy insights and detailed knowledge about the productions of campaigns and content photography to not only clients but also other creatives on the way.


If you enjoyed reading this article, or you found it helpful in one way or another, I would love to know (reach out)! You are also welcome to support my work and writing by donating whichever amount this is worth to you. I will thank you with lots of telepathic love and more interesting journal entries. Cheers!

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