Join John McWade for an in-depth discussion in this video Close enough with color choice, part of Graphic Design Tips & Tricks Weekly.
- Got a letter from a designer, whose client wanted her business card to match the green of her studio walls, and the designer was having a hard time with that. She did get close, but not exact. She tried Pantone, CMYK, on and on. I told her not to worry. Even if she rolled the client's wall paint on to the business card, it wouldn't look the same. Before I continue, Pantone has two approaches to color, solid ink and process inks.
Solid ink is like paint. The ink is the color that you'll print. Process is color made from four inks. Cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, or CMYK, that are mixed to make as close a match as possible. Under magnification, you can see that the process inks make a pattern of tiny dots. Some matches are very close, like you see here on the left. Others are quite far off. Anyway, there are a number of reasons exact color matches are almost impossible, but basically, it's that our color perception is constantly changing, and the light is changing, too.
The world of color is dynamic, and not static. For example, use Adope Capture to sample the scene, and it'll create a lovely palette, but none of its colors will be exactly what your eyes see. Why is that? Well, what's it sampling? Our eyes see a generally green wall, with light falling across it. Turn that into a mosaic, though. Either a small one, or a big one, and you'll see that one green is actually dozens.
Which one are we matching? Color, or more specifically, our perception of color, is effected by many things, one of which is the amount of light around it, which affects how bright it appears. For example, these two greens against white are obviously the same, but put one against black, and it becomes lighter. Squint, and you'll see that it's actually much lighter. Yet move the greens together, and you'll see they're still the same. To get closer to the perceived value, or the same perceived value, the black version must become darker, and the white version must become lighter, but even here, if you squint, you'll see that the white side still looks darker, although it's actually much lighter.
This phenomenon, perhaps, can be better seen in an amazing optical illusion, a checkerboard with a shadow falling across it. Which is darker? Square A or Square B? Square A is obviously darker, but you know what's coming. Watch as I move Square B towards Square A. Let me zoom in, so you can see this. As soon as the square begins crossing into the light, it begins looking darker, as though it's acquired a gradient.
The color has not changed. This is pure illusion. As I move it completely into the light, you can see that it's darker than Square A, and you can see a gradient, back to Square B. Our eyes refuse to believe this, so let me remove the checkerboard, and you can see that the color is still flat. After the movie, you can download this jpg, and try it yourself. Color is also effected by color next to it. Our two greens again, clearly identical, add blue and yellow backgrounds, though, and not only is our yellow/green now darker, it's also bluer, and the blue/green is now yellower.
Squint, and you'll see this. What's happening is that the surrounding blue is sucking blue out of the green, which leaves yellow, and the surrounding yellow is sucking yellow out of the green, which leaves blue. Move them together, and you'll see they're still the same. You can try compensating for this by altering the color and the value. Now they're much different, but if the background changes, they'll just change again, in different ways. None of this is to say you shouldn't try matching color, especially if you have a brand.
Say, Coca-Cola Red, you want it to be the same red everywhere, nice, bright, red. Not coral red or brick red, or some other, so stick with a standard, like Pantone, and you'll get your best results, but in every other case, like our friend with the studio walls, close enough really is close enough. And by the way, when it comes to greens, you have a big palette. Nature has given us more greens, by far, than any other color on Earth, and that's your design for today. See you next time.
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