Three Tips for Color Consistency When Expanding into Wide-Format or Cutsheet

Written October 16, 2019

Campaigns that involve cutsheet collateral and wide-format signage have long been common, but as equipment costs and simplicity barriers to entry have lowered, signage shops and commercial printers are increasingly adopting both technology capabilities. When devices with different capabilities are thrown into the mix, outsourcing costs go down, but workflow complexity goes up. When that happens, one of the most important parts of a campaign — color consistency — can fall by the wayside.

If your direct mail piece nails Coca-Cola red but your billboard color is off, the campaign — and more importantly, the brand — suffers. It’s crucial to lock down color consistency across all channels in order to give brand iconography its power. While bringing an entire campaign in-house can make checking and adjusting that color consistency easier, getting color consistency throughout the print process, both efficiently and holistically, can be difficult.

To make things a little simpler for those looking to grow their capabilities — either from wide-format into cutsheet or cutsheet into wide-format — while maintaining efficiency and consistency, here are three tips:

1. Always consider your substrates. With cutsheet applications, you’re always buying paper. That’s not to say there isn’t a good deal of variance in how different papers hold and display pigment, but wide format is a whole different ball game when it comes to substrate variety. Knowing how different colors show on different substrates and which recipes produce the desired brand colors on the substrates in play, is key.

It can help to have a set of primary, repeatable substrates that provide sufficient eye-catching variety while also providing reliable color results, so you don’t have to burn through expensive test prints for every new job in a campaign.

2. Consistency is more important than a single, standout application. Not all printers were created equal. That’s especially evident when it comes to color quality. When producing a campaign across wide-format and cutsheet applications, it can be tempting to put the pedal to the metal on the absolute best color each device/substrate combination can create. But if five different cars all redline it, they’re going to all go different speeds. In the same way, printing isn’t a street race. You can’t have your different collateral reaching the finish line at different “times.” Five different “best” colors are still five different colors, and the end result looks sloppy and inconsistent, even if individual pieces are particularly eye-catching.

What you want is all of your applications to cross the finish line at the same time, even if that means throttling back on some of your engines. Across cutsheet and wide format, there are key differences in inks, how those inks are imaged and each of their available color gamuts. Calibrate your equipment to produce the best possible color that all the involved devices can achieve so that the final campaign is of consistent, high quality.

3. Speak the same “color language” across workflows. Well-managed workflows are critical to any campaign, but they become even more important when diverse applications are involved. Often, different sides of a wide format/cutsheet hybrid house require different workflow software that can make getting on the same page difficult. It’s important to facilitate communication between these workflows, either with comprehensive software or by finding ways to pass information between them.

Make sure that when the handoff is made between the cutsheet side and the wide-format side, the exact colors are being communicated in a precise way. That’s most often done by leveraging Pantone specified spot colors and ICC profiles in your workflow.

There’s more to adding capabilities than just simply adding them. To be truly successful, it’s important to take the next step and integrate them. Color consistency is already part of your business, whether you started as a cutsheet shop or a wide-format one.

These tips serve as reminders of one of the most fundamental rules of communication: consistency. That means seamlessly integrating how you handle printing different aspects of a campaign so that the resulting applications fit together, presenting the same message and the same branding.