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    Brand Stratos Blog

    A guide to color processes

    As printers, color is a big deal to us. Often times, we find ourselves trying to explain what different color systems are, how they are used, and why one color might look different from screen to print.

    This post is your one stop guide to understanding color modes and how they make a difference in print & design projects.

    Pantone Matching System

    PMS or Pantone colors are the most precise measurement of color because they are made from pre-mixed ink, ensuring the most accurate print possible.

    “The Pantone colour guides have been widely adopted and are used by artists, designers, printers, manufacturers, marketers and clients in all industries worldwide for accurate colour identification, design specification, quality control and communication.” Pantone-colours

    While printing with PMS colors is generally more expensive, it ensures that your brand is maintained to the highest degree possible. Because of the cost, pantone colors are best used as a spot color with black and white.


    CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (Black). This is the most widely used color system for printing because it requires less time, set-up, and money to print.

    “CMYK colors are mixed during the printing process itself. Layers of CMYK ink are laid in varying densities to create tonal differences. CMYK can create a wide range of colors, so it is primarily used for full color printing.” Sonnie, Design the Planet

    When picking colors for a project or brand, we always recommend referencing a PMS swatch book, then print the closest CMYK equivalent. While some PMS colors simply can’t be exactly duplicated, the CMYK process will closely approximate your PMS colors.


    RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue. The RGB system is used to color light, which is much different than coloring ink or paint.

    “When combined, red and green light rays produce yellow, blue and green produce cyan, red and blue produce magenta. Red, green and blue mix to create white (light).” Color Systems, colormatters.com

    RGB is the system used on screen displays like your phone, TV, computer monitor, and on theaters screens. Printing in RGB will, in almost every case, produce undesired color shifts.

    Material Affects Color

    One thing that can be difficult to predict is how the material that is being printed on will affect the print color. Printing on a high gloss material, for example, will increase color contrast and make dark colors seem darker. Likewise, printing on an uncoated or matte surface can make colors seem a bit dull. On the same note, special mask coatings like spot UV, Endless Metallics (or some other metallic treatment), or luster will obviously change the way we perceive the printed color because it is treated to look glossy, shimmery, or shiny in specific areas. Finally the slight tint of different papers can make the same print file look totally different after production.

    A look inside the design process

    Design is a means to solve a problem and achieve a business objective. No matter how big or small the design project is, there is always an end goal that is trying to be achieved. Once it is established that there is a need for a new or updated design, the process can begin.

    the basic process

    ONE- communicate needs & goals
    Perhaps the most important step in the course of the project is the first one: Supply the designer with as much information as possible. Here are some common starting places.

    • The goal of the project, ie. More traffic to your website, new & increased business during a promotion, more qualified referrals to your business, etc.
    • Content and information that is critical to the design, what should be included if possible, and what can be omitted.
    • Ideas or preconceived visuals of the end result, resources to keep in mind during the design conception.


    TWO- ask questions
    From here, the designers will ask their own questions. It is important that they get to the bottom of what is really needed and how best to accomplish the goal, both visually and functionally.

    TWO.5- design brief
    Depending on the scope of the design project, it is common for the designer to supply a design brief so that all parties understand the direction the project will take, what deadlines will be met, who is responsible for each part, and what research is being done to influence the design.

    We really like Peter L Phillips, Creating the Perfect Design Brief, to build our design briefs.

    This might seem like a lot of hoopla before the pencil even hits the sketchbook, but take into consideration this quote from the team treehouse blog:

    “Time spent understanding the problem will save massive amounts of time later on, because the changes you make should be smaller. Iteration is inevitable, but making changes early is cheaper than changes made later on.” Nick Pettit, Optimize Your Design Process


    THREE- design
    Once all of the nitty gritty is hammered down, the real work starts. Design starts with “sketching.” Often this means sitting down with a pencil and a sketchbook, but it also can mean skipping the sketch book and going straight to the computer to figure out how to best to lay out critical content and how to make the piece function to the best of its capability. This “sketching” process continues through refining and developing phases until up to 3 designs are ready to submit for review.


    FOUR- revise & repeat
    The designs are proofed for content, accuracy, visual appeal, and-most importantly- which one best addresses the problem and achieves the project goal. Very specific revisions are delivered back to the designers and the review cycle is repeated up to two more times.


    FIVE- implement & assess
    Implementation of the design is always the most exciting part. Whether implementation involves printing, distribution, installation, launching, posting, or some other end, it is exciting to get insight and results from the consumers of the design. Measuring the success of the design is a particularly important practice as the age of analytics becomes more accessible. Design is not stagnant. By understanding how successful a design is- how well it solved the initial problem- updates to the design months, years, or decades down the road will be more obvious and will have the potential to be many times more successful in the future.

    For a great infographic on the design process, check out Design Deeper's Visual.

    Fantastic New Smartphone Wallet Makes Perfect Giveaway

    The Smartphone Wallet is an excellent way for customers and colleagues to display your logo or graphic on the most visible device they carry: their smartphone.

    With a larger imprint area than most pens, bottle openers, and USB drives the Smartphone Wallet is great for building brand awareness and for its utility and style.

    Slim Down & Keep Essentials in One Place

    Do away with bulky wallets and burdensome purses.

    The Smartphone Wallet is slim, compact, and fits in the palm of your hand.

    It conveniently holds business cards, credit cards, and cash while protecting your phone with soft silicone.

    The Smartphone Wallet Offers Peace of Mind

    A thin layer of 3M adhesive on the back with a textured sleeve on the front ensure reliable access to treasured personal property.

    Just flip it over, grab your cash or card, complete your transaction, and get on with your day.

    Use in a Variety of Industries

    Enjoy the convenience and mobility of the Smartphone Wallet in a variety of industries, including:

    Health & Fitness
    Travel & Leisure
    Home & Living

    Take the Smartphone Wallet everywhere you go. Or simply use at work, at home, or in your car.

    For proof of the power of promotional products, click this link to learn more about the Advertising Specialty Institute’s 2013 Global Survey.