Making You Look Good: A Lesson In Prepress Color Corrections
Have you ever had a donor report print so dark that the photos were muddled and void of detail? Did the people in the photos of your annual report somehow turn green? Or yellow? Or pink? Can you no longer read the type that was so carefully placed on a screened-back photo or solid background? What happened? Everything looked fine on the laser proofs.
Occasionally things go awry during the print process because of bad design decisions, but more often than not, it’s attributable to poor printing or, more accurately, poor print quality management. Handing over files to the printer is not the end of the job; important steps need to be taken at this point to ensure that the quality of the printing measures up to the quality of the design.
Prepress color corrections, for example, are one of the most important things we do. Depending on the quality of the photos, we will almost always make some adjustments to the color. If you happen to see a color proof after we’ve reviewed it, you’ll probably see one or more of the terms below written in bright red Sharpie.
OPEN UP: the photo is too dark and needs to be lightened. We will often ask the printer to open up a specific range, eg. half-tones, 3/4 tones, shadows, etc., or just make an overall shift.
DARKEN/INCREASE SATURATION: the image is a little light and needs more weight in all four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black).
SHARPEN: the edges and lines in the photo are a little soft and need to be more defined. This enhances the detail of the photo.
INCREASE CONTRAST/TOO FLAT: there’s little difference between the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows of the photo, making it look ‘flat.’ Increasing the contrast makes the shadows deeper and the highlights lighter.
TOO MUCH CONTRAST: there’s too much difference in the highlights, mid-tones and shadows, making the photo look harsh. Our printers soften the contrast by bringing the level of the tones a little closer together.
WARM UP/COOL DOWN/EVEN OUT SKINTONES: the majority of the work we do features photos of people, and we take great care to make sure skintones are pleasing and look natural. Our photos also often include people of color, and care is needed to make sure skintones are accurately represented.
We will often note on the proof for the printer to remove blemishes in skintones, reflections in eyeglasses, and any harsh or strange shadows that draw your attention away from the central focus of the photo. In outdoor shots, the grass might need to be a little greener and the sky a little bluer. Distracting stray hairs or circles under the eyes? Gone.
When we put a job out for bid, we ask our printers to include time for prepress color corrections. The amount of time allotted depends on the complexity of the project and the number (and quality) of photos, but it can range anywhere from 1 hour to 10 hours. Sure, you can make some color adjustments while on press, but you’re really limited as to what you can do at that point.
Below are some examples of before and after photos, as well as the color corrections we requested:
When the color’s right, your communication not only represents the successful culmination of a lot of hard work, but it also distinguishes your organization from the also-rans. Don’t you think that’s worth just a little more time and effort?
Lisa Kirkman is M Creative’s production manager and an expert in all things paper. Special thanks to Terry Preston at Hutchison Allgood Printing for providing the before and after photos and collaborating on this post.