How Can I Predict How the Colors Will Print On a Printing Press?

Answered by Jay Nelson, Editor and Publisher, Design Tools Monthly

I just ran an expensive print job and not only did the beautiful blue skies print too green, my client's corporate red printed too orange. Needless to say, my client is disappointed and may reprint the job. The colors looked right on my display and on my inkjet printer -- how can I predict how the colors will print on a printing press?

It sounds like you trust your display and your desktop printer, so I assume you've calibrated them both. (If not, check out Colorvision's Spyder2 Suite for $169 or if you just want to calibrate your display, Pantone's Huey for just $89.)

But sometimes things go wrong with software, so the easiest and most foolproof way to ensure that your colors will print the way you want them to is to use a printed book of color swatches. The process would go something like this:

  1. Find your intended color in the swatchbook.
  2. Note the percentages of each process color that produced it.
  3. Open your project file and make sure that its color mode is set to the color mode that will be used when printing. (commonly: SWOP, coated or uncoated, offset or web)
  4. Check the CMYK percentages in the area containing your intended color.
  5. Compare the swatchbook's percentages with the percentages in your file.
  6. Adjust your file to match the swatchbook.

Note: It's absolutely essential to use a swatchbook that's printed on the same kind of stock you'll be using: coated or uncoated. Colors look entirely different on coated stock vs. uncoated stock.

The best tintbook we've seen is Tintbook, from $80 buys 25,000 square swatches printed on either coated or uncoated stock. Other options include Trumatch swatchbooks at, or Pantone's CMYK swatchbooks (not their spot color swatchbooks) at They also run about $80 each.

This question was answered by Jay Nelson, Publisher & Editor, Design Tools Monthly. We love DTM's tips and advice and think you will, too. For a free sample PRINTED issue, contact Design Tools Monthly at 303-543-8400, e-mail, or go to their website:

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