Achieving the Best Color Results for Labels

label colors

Choosing Colors

An issue that can occur whenever large quantities of custom labels are being printed is inconsistent colors within the label and throughout the whole batch. Even if you have a small order, the colors you choose are an important consideration because it can impact the labels’ appeal. We employ different methods to better ensure we match the label’s inks to our customer’s specifications. To help you achieve the right colors for your labels, we’ve compiled some things you should consider so that your custom labels match your color choices.

What is a color management system?

In the label industry, color management refers to methods that are used to ensure quality reproduction of four color process printing. Methods can include a press proofing system, on and off press ink mixing software, spot color matching using the Pantone system, quality checks and more.

Digital and Flexographic Printing

Both digital and flexographic printing uses a four color process because it can build colors by applying layers of ink in Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and ‘Key’ Black – commonly referred to as ‘CMYK’ or ‘process color.’

Flexographic printing uses plates to transfer inks onto the material and are capable of up to six ink stations in addition to four color process. The ink stations can be used for multiple variations of any single color, spot colors, specialized inks, underprinting, two-sided printing or laminate finish.

Digital label printing uses similar technology as personal digital printers where dots of ink are used to recreate an image from a digital file. Since plates aren’t used in digital label printing, setup costs are typically less. Our HP digital presses use an ink mixing system to provide a wide range of colors, including special colors from a set of base inks (CMYK).

Ways to Get Optimal Colors Results on Labels

With the right tools and software, your label manufacturer will be able to give you a measure of assurance that your labels’ colors will print right. There are things you can do, however, to make it easier for your label manufacturer to print the colors to your exact specifications. Below are some tips we’ve compiled to help you achieve the colors you want for your labels.

Design with CMYK Colors So We Can Easily Match It

Your label artwork should be designed with CMYK colors because labels – and other types of printed material – use process color printing. RGB (red, green and blue) colors are used for electronic screens because they can produce colors outside of the CMYK color range. However, RGB colors should be avoided when designing something for print because the colors on the screen may not look the same when printed. Learn how to convert artwork files to CMYK in our guides section.

Communicate Your Needs for Best Materials Selection

Knowing ahead of time what your label will be used for and how you want it to look will help your customer service rep pick label materials that will produce the best color results. Below are some things you should be aware of when it comes to materials selection:

  • An uncoated facestock can alter how the colors on the label appear because the material can absorb and spread the ink – and possibly cause colors to bleed into one another. Coated facestocks are typically recommended because the inks adhere better to the material.
  • Certain types of inks fade faster than others so it’s important to know what environments your labels will face during storage, distribution, and use. Labeled products that will face direct sunlight or moisture should be taken into account so the right inks and materials can be chosen for optimal color quality.
  • Finishes can offer your labels’ inks greater protection against fading, bleeding or smudging. It can also create an effect on the label where colors appear more vibrant or dull (e.g. gloss, matte, textured, etc.) depending on what look you’re trying to achieve. Learn more about finishes in our How to Select a Finish for Your Labels article available on the blog.

Consider Spot Colors to Achieve Accuracy and Consistency

Spot colors are inks that are premixed to their needed level before printing with a computerized ink matching system. When large runs of labels are being printed, small differences in color can occur which is why spot colors may be needed to ensure color accuracy and consistency. For example, labels with a corporate logo on it usually need an exact color match to keep branding consistent. Using spot colors will make sure the logo’s colors (or whatever that needs an exact color) are printed to the right hue and saturation.

It’s important to note that it’s easier to adjust spot colors than it is to adjust a color being printed through four color process. In flexographic printing, when one area of a four-color process job is being changed, all of the colors have to be adjusted. Spot colors, however, can be individually altered without affecting the rest of the colors being printed. Our flexographic presses can print six spot colors for up to 10 color printing capabilities. Digital printing can also use mixed spot inks, in addition to the printer’s four-color process, to match a wide array of Pantone colors.

Don’t Forget About White Underprinting for Transparent Materials

White underprinting is often recommended for clear labels to give its colors opacity. If the inks on a clear label are translucent, they can lose their vibrant look and may even appear to be a different color. Clear containers with colorful contents can also change how the label’s colors appear if white underprinting isn’t applied.

White containers can give colors opacity so underprinting may be unnecessary, whereas containers that aren’t white (blue, red, purple, etc.) can affect the label colors’ appearance. There are instances, however, when white underprinting isn’t used – regardless of the container or content’s color – to achieve a transparent effect. Check out our video on white underprinting to see how it can impact a color’s appearance.

Discuss with Your Customer Service Rep

Having a solid vision for your label’s colors and communicating that to your customer service rep will help him or her determine whether white underprinting is needed – as well as certain materials and processes. Whether you have one or 12 colors in your label design, keep in mind that CMYK colors can produce an array of colors and there are options in case you need a special color or effect. Our guides and label articles on our website are great resources that can help your designer select colors and design artwork for higher quality labels.