What does a hair cut and colour matching have in common?

Colour matching Hair

We’re in lockdown again, hairdressers have closed and our grooming habits are back into sharp focus. I was thinking about colour matching while trying to cut my son’s hair and had an epiheny!

[By the way, he’s nearly 3 but hates having his hair cut: This is a big challenge for us as untrained hairdressers – I won’t share pictures, but a recent specsavers sheep shearing advert comes into mind!!]

I often get asked by designers how a certain spot colour will look using 4 colour process. This whole conversation becomes much more complicated when we take into account the colour of the material we’re printing on. It’s even more pronounced when textured or silver materials are used.

A disclaimer:

Colour management is a complex science. I don’t purport to be an ink specialist or even a colour management expert. I have, however, been involved in the business my whole career and have picked up a few things. These are some of my thoughts…

Some common misconceptions:

“The colour I have chosen in illustrator is the same as what will be printed.”

“I’ve chosen a pantone from the book, so that’s how it will look on the finished packaging. It should look the same on the label, the box and the card insert too.”

“If we’re printing on silver, the colours will be brighter.”

“All colours can be printed using 4 colour process.”

“The artwork on the pdf is bright and punchy, so that’s what the print will look like.”

“Colour matching is an exact science. There’s lots of colour control mechanisms which can make sure it looks how I expect.”

“A Delta tolerance of less than 2 means that the difference in colour isn’t visible by eye”

I could make a whole blog about all of these topics. Each of these indicate the range of variables which can impact the final result compared to the initial design intent. It’s important that your designer understands the medium and method to ensure the final result looks good.

With packaging, there are often multiple materials involved, making this process a whole lot more complicated.

So what’s that got to do with a hair cut?

Most printers you talk to will say that greys and pastel colours always cause them headaches.

While instinctively we understand this, I often find I’m pulling my hair out explaining this to a designer. Communicating why the colour they’ve chosen won’t work out the way they expect can be tricky.

When it comes to cutting hair, we instinctively know that the shorter it is the more often it needs cutting. The reason for this is to do with the relative length. If it’s a ‘number one’ all over, a weeks’ growth could more than double the length. Whereas if you have shoulder length hair, a month of growth may not be noticeable.

If we think about colour as the amount of ink on the paper, the analogy becomes clear; amount of ink, or amount of hair, it’s the relative change that makes it noticeable.

In colour management, we measure this as the ‘Delta E’ value. This is the shift in measurable difference between the expected and measured result:

There’s lots of useful info on the X-rite website

The hardest thing to see when looking at your screen is the amount of ink involved. The colour sliders (1-100%) give a guide to how much ink will be printed.

Usually the paler the colour, the less ink is used. With spot colours 100% is the colour, and any less is a paler version of the colour (called a tint).

Applying my ‘relative amount’ analogy to colour management:

Example 1 – A small amount = a big relative change.

If you apply 5% of cyan (a blue colour) to a slightly yellow material for example, you’re going to get green. A one or two % variance is going to have a big impact visually. The difference between 5% and 6% being a 20% change means a big, noticeable shift in visible colour (but difficult to measure).

This means the ‘relative change’ is big, and visually the difference is large too.

Example 2 – A big amount = a small relative change.

If there’s 80% cyan, there will be more blue than yellow, so the cyan will be dominant. A 1 or 2% variance is negligible and not going to make a visual difference. (the percentage difference between 80 and 82 is roughly 2.5%)

This means the ‘relative change’ is small and visually the difference is small too.

So like hair; the less there is, the more noticeable it is when there’s a change.

Are you having a specific problem with colour matching or struggling with brand consistency?

Feel free to give us a call or get in touch to find out how we can help.

p.s. for the technical minded – the good news is that Fogra 51 takes a lot of this into account. Companies that have upgraded to this measurement set, therefore have a bit of an advantage, especially where mixed media are involved. Take up is often slow with ‘new’ processes though as the whole industry needs to jump together for it to be an effective tool.

You can find some more info here on the: Fogra website.

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