Colour Models and their Characteristics

When it comes time to print your materials, colour is a consideration which must be made. Not only are there millions of shades to choose from, but sometimes, those colours may not translate well when they’ve been printed.

The reasons for so much variation between the optical perception of colour and its resulting appearance on paper are many. From the computer’s perception of colour to the paper types you use, a colour can end up looking completely different than you intended. However, there is another cause of differences in colour; their colour models. In the printing world, these models exist in four types.


RGB stands for red, green and blue. This colour model is used by all screens, including those on computers and mobile phones. Red, green and blue are the colours of light that, when combined create the colours of the spectrum. In the RGB model, each colour is represented by a number between 0 and 255. The way in which numbers are assigned to colours in the RGB model is based on amount of light. A colour with zero light will receive a value of 255, where white is classified as being 0.

RGB is device-dependent, meaning that the values assigned to colours will differ according to the equipment being used to view them. Sending RGB images to a printer can result in amendments needing to be made at the printer’s end to convert the image to a usable model, which can be costly.


The Pantone colour model represents a standardised system that’s used by the whole of the printing industry. Pantone uses 15 base pigments including black and white to create its colours. Each colour is given its own universal code, so that if the same Pantone shade is chosen in Asia and in North America, each will be that exact shade once printed.

The Pantone model contains a different set of colours for coated paper, like that used for business cards, and uncoated paper such as is most commonly seen on ink jet labels. This ensures that the colour will be reproduced accurately regardless of paper type. This is important where a company needs to have its logo look the same on a glossy business card as it does on office stationery.


CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black, and is the most commonly-used colour model for the four-colour printing process. Different combinations of these four colours can be used to create virtually any imaginable colour. CMYK is most often used where graphic and photographic images need to be printed with high quality.

The process for printing with the CMYK model is as follows: the more ink that is added, the darker an image will be. In other words, the paper being printed on can be considered a base, with ink being added in the CMYK order until the desired image has been achieved. All images being sent to a printer for printing should be sent in CMYK format.


Hexadecimal colour, also known as HEX code, is a colour model used by the online world. These colours can first be specified as RGB, and then be converted into HEX format. HEX, like RGB, assigns a unique number to each shade. This colour model is what web designers use to create web sites. So if you are having a website designed, specifying colours in HEX format are preferable.

When you think about colours like a printer does, the need to have a specific colour model becomes clear. As well, it is easy to see how an image sent in one type can cause a lot of issues with colour matching when it finally reaches the printer. However, communicating with your printer beforehand to ensure you’re sending images with the correct colour model can save a lot of money and time.

Common Printing Types

If you are contacting a professional printer for the first time, you may have heard of several different kinds of printing processes, but may not have been sure how each actually works. The good news is that you no longer have to wonder about the differences between them; simply read on and learn more.

Understand This First
It is important to consider that there is much more to the printing of anything, including inkjet labels than simply transferring images and words to paper. Paper is, in effect, a carrier of a message. However, it also offers an experience; one of holding and feeling of the paper. There are many types of paper, and choosing the right one for your needs is crucial for a successful printing run.

Gravure is a printing process whereby an image is transformed into tiny dots that are halftone in colour. Gravure printing is most commonly used where long runs are needed, such as those of packaging and publications. Gravure printing consists of a plate cylinder with tiny ink-holding cells. Excess ink is scraped off of the plate with a blade as the press runs, which leaves ink in the cells only.

Offset Printing
Offset printing is by far the most popular type of professional printing due to its high cost-effectiveness. This type of printing involves roller plates being run through water before they are run through ink. Water adheres to the white spaces of a layout, while ink adheres to image, design and text areas. The plates are pressed to a rubber plate prior to printing on paper. Although high quantities can be printed much faster than with other types, changes are not easily made once the plate has already been made.

Screen Printing
This printing type is exceedingly versatile. Today’s screen printing process allows for longer production runs and produces accurate and brilliant colours, as well as consistency in each. In this process, the ink is shot through a mesh fabric with a squeegee type blade onto the material being printed.

Electrostatic Printing
This type of printing only needs zinc oxide-coated paper, and not plates or ink. Short print runs work best with electrostatic printing, and can print faster than an inkjet printer. The zinc oxide provides insulation in dark conditions and acts as a conductor when exposed to light.

Letterpress printing used to be the standard. Today, this type of printing is often chosen where speciality printing is needed, such as that for posters, fine art prints and books. In letterpress printing, the image area is raised above the rest of the plate, causing the image to make a physical impression.

Engraving involves raising or engraving the images being printed for a more attractive and defined image. This process is usually reserved for speciality items like invitations or corporate logos due to its complexity and high cost.

Also known as flexo and flexographic printing, this process uses plates that have been photo-etched to remove non-image areas, which are then transferred via ink to the material being printed. Flexography works best for media that exists in roll form, such as plastics, newsprint and foil.

The once-meticulous process of printing has been transformed since 1439, when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type. Since that time, there have also been numerous advances in technology, which resulted in the several printing processes above. Whether it’s a book or corporate logo, it cannot be argued that there are many types of printing to choose from. Understanding each type can help you to make a more informed decision about the printing type that’s best for you.