Seeing Red - A matter of a spot of colour

March 01, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

The end of February and the beginning of March brings the first signs of a welcome spring, snowdrops, daffodils and birdsong. But if you’re a hardened petrol head the dawning of a new year means the wheeling out of new cars for pre-season testing in advance of the Formula One Championship opening race  in Australia. Over the winter, while the drivers have had a break, those clever people behind the screens have been working on lots of new ideas to make the cars go even faster, with their computer simulations, fluid dynamics and wind tunnel scale aero models. All of this considerable expense and effort to lose a few precious tenths of a second over the opposition. Each hoping they have come up with a trick that will give them that edge, and hoping they can keep it hidden before the others catch on.
This year Ferrari, as well as all the novelties under the new skin, have come up with something very obvious on top of it. They have changed the paint job. For fifty years the Italian marque has been blood red - scarlet  as Murray Walker would always announce it. Sometimes diluted with a little white and black from tobacco sponsorship, but always bright, bold red. For 2019 they haven’t changed the colour, they’ve changed the finish. Instead of a brilliant gloss, they’ve gone for a matte coating. But this is not for any reason of air flowing faster over the bodywork. You might expect gloss would actually slip through the air better. No, this is because someone clever at Marennello  worked out that it was several hundred grams lighter.


This well kept secret was all well and good until the covers came off and the car was revealed to the media with it’s drivers in all its glory. For what the clever technicians may not have taken into account in their calculations was something any printer could have told them - it was a different colour, it was almost orange when alongside the rest of the team’s paraphernalia. Outrage ensued when fans of the Prancing Horse saw the new car on social and broadcast media, especially as orange is the native colour of former fierce rivals Mclaren. This was almost a national insult, at the very least a slight on Latin automotive tradition.The team principals and the management at Fiat are so far staying tight lipped on their feelings about this change of hue but whether the colour stays will rather depend on whether the car really is faster, and if it wins the tifosi may have to learn to love it.
Of course  as photographers and printers we are all too familiar with the issues of colour reflected from different media surfaces, especially as we are working most commonly with designers and creatives whose working experience has been entirely devoted to a bright backlit screen. What was basic  instinct to a traditional printer seems to have been overlooked in the present curriculum of graphic design so that colours carefully worked out on the computer are just expected to translate automatically into their correct state in hard copy. 
You can understand an average person, creating a little something from a free app on a phone,  being surprised that it doesn’t print exactly like if does on their little hi-res screen when it’s no longer illuminated from the rear and converted into solid ink drops. But professionals who are supposed to be trained, and employed specifically to know what they are doing is another thing. Often they are obsessed with Pantone references, failing to grasp the difference between spot colour and process colour in printing. 
Pantone inks are specific colours to give an accurate, solid single coat. Images processed by modern digital presses, in CMYK, create colour by using a combination of those four inks - or more in the case of more sophisticated inkjet printers -  to produce a composite colour actually consisting of many multi-coloured individual dots. The proportions of the various colours will vary depending on how the printer translates the digital equation sent to it, which is why there can be such a variance between one machine and another. And that’s before you take into account the colour profile used to create that information. All of these variables make accurate colour reproduction extremely difficult.
Pantone themselves say that CMYK colours can only match their own no more than 55% of the time, and even that will take a lot of time and trouble - more than most customers will want to pay for.
This doesn’t mean that Pantone colours are redundant in the digital world, they are an important reference, but they are only an approximate when trying to apply to a print on demand service.
Other the other hand, because they mix colours, and the mix can be adjusted in the messages sent to the printer, a digital press does a better job of blending shades and gradients which spot colours can’t cope with.

Always be aware the colours we actually see are relative to the colour of light falling on them as much as the colour they actually are. Ferrari take note !

 


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