Matching your printed colors to your customers’ demands can be a challenge. Here are some tips to make it easier!

You don’t want to end up with unhappy customers and wasted prints. That means you have to know what can throw off your colors and how to overcome those challenges to create color-matched prints that will leave your customers satisfied.

Challenges of Color Matching Ink for Screen Printing

When you set out to match a custom color for a customer, you’re confronted with a host of obstacles. Some factors that interfere with color matching for screen printing include:

  • Substrate color. Often in screen printing, you’re trying to match a color that’s been printed on a white background, and if you’re using the Pantone system, those color swatches are meant to be represent a white substrate. The color of your substrate can change the appearance of your ink. You may be able to overcome that by printing an underbase, but this can cause a heavy hand feel that might be undesirable.
  • Ink opacity. Different inks have different opacities. If your ink is too transparent, the color of your substrate will come through the ink color even more dramatically, interfering with the ink’s appearance.
  • Ink finish. Plastisol inks have a glossy finish, while water-based inks have a matte look. The sheen of your ink affects the final appearance of the color. When following the Pantone system, the C (coated) designation will most closely match a glossy finish, while U (uncoated) is more matte.
  • Substrate texture. Ink doesn’t lie down the same on glossy polyester as it does on matte cotton. Your substrate texture will affect the final appearance of your ink color.
  • Lighting. Different types of lighting affect how we see color. A color that appears to match your Pantone swatch under your shop’s fluorescent lights might seem like an obvious mismatch in direct sunlight.
  • Perception. People’s eyes perceive colors in different ways. Some can spot the differences in color more acutely. What one person perceives as a color match might be completely off to someone else.

Overcoming Obstacles for a Better Color Match

Overcoming the challenges of color matching might not be easy, but there are some steps that you can take to get a more accurate color match.

    • Make sure your scale is accurate. If your scale isn’t accurately measuring your inks when you mix them, your colors won’t match your color swatch.
    • Keep your color book up to date. Official Pantone books can be expensive, but not as expensive as throwing away a print run due to a poorly matched color. The books do fade and wear over time. Make sure you refresh your Pantone book as needed.
    • Don’t rely on computer monitors. Never try to color match online. Very few computer monitors depict true color, and no two computer monitors depict a color in the same way. Trying to color match or communicate color with a customer via the computer is sure to end up in a bad match.
    • Print samples. The only way to combat the challenges of color matching in screen printing — substrate color and texture, ink opacity and ink texture — is by printing samples. After you’ve matched your initial ink color, lay down your ink on the intended substrate to determine how the substrate and ink will affect the color. From there, you can make necessary adjustments to reach the desired color.
    • Invest in a light box. A light box shines different types of light in an enclosed space so you can see how accurate your color match is in different lighting. If you plan to do a lot of highly accurate color matching in your shop, a light box can be a worthwhile investment.
    • Understand your color perception. The only way to understand how you perceive color is by testing your eyes. There are some simple online tests that can help you to gauge how well you differentiate colors. If you find that identifying color isn’t your strong suit, you might want to test your team to determine who is best suited to color matching inks.

Ensuring Happy Customers

The best way to ensure that you end up with a customer who’s happy with your color match is to communicate with that customer throughout the process. First and foremost, know what the customer’s expectations are. They might request a specific color but be happy with a stock color that is extremely close. Or, they might require an exact match to a logo or a company color for branding purposes. You won’t know how accurate your match has to be unless you ask.

It’s important to communicate the limitations of color matching and have your customers accept that some slight variation may occur – sometimes a perfect match just isn’t possible. Make sure your customer sees (preferably in person) the color swatch you’re attempting to match and your printed sample. Have the customer sign off on your samples so you know you have created a color match that meets their expectations. By understanding your customers’ needs, and making sure you’re set up to meet those needs, you’re much more likely to print a product that leaves them satisfied.

For more tips on getting perfect screen printing colors, check out this blog post:

Color Matching Ink for Screen Printing: Get the Best Results!