What color is your paper?

Because my friends don’t really understand what I do, I often get asked by them to do things that are outside my area of knowledge

Can you design my letterhead/business card/logo?

I’m not a designer. I know more about design than I used to, and I have a decent sense of the basics, but I’m not going to help anyone create the best representation of their business. But a friend, who is a graphic designer, emailed me recently and said he’d designed some amazing business cards, bought the card stock, gone to Kinko’s, and was very disappointed with what they gave him and wondered what they did wrong.

It looked beautiful on my screen, I just don’t get it.

So I asked him to email me the file. He sent me this PDF (names have been changed to protect the innocent):

My thought upon viewing it was that there was no reason for this blue text not to print on the white background. I called him to ask for the InDesign file. He sent that over and we chatted while I opened it. I saw a chocolate background and the blue text and questioned why this background was brown.

This is what the designer hoped it would look like

Oh, that’s cause that’s the color of my paper, so I just wanted to come up with a blue that would look good against the brown. I set the background as a non-printing item before I made the pdf.

Ah ha! I replied: “But the blue overprints the brown, so what you’re doing is combining the blue ink with the brown paper, not really printing blue ink on top of brown paper. Since your blue is lighter than the brown, its not going to show up well.

But it looks great on my screen. How could I know that? What can I do now?

I suggested he use his color palette to get the CMYK breakdown of the Pantone brown color. And then double-click on the Paper swatch in his swatches palette and change the color to have approximately the same values.

He was doing this at the same time as I was.

But! That doesn’t change anything. It still looks good for me.

“But we’re not done, friend,” I said. “Now go to your View menu and choose Overprint Preview. What does it look like now?”

Exactly what I got from Kinko’s. Yuck. What do I do?

“First, when printing something on a color copier, always make sure your paper is lighter than your ink. If you want a solid-color background and colored ink, find a CMYK breakdown that matches your desired paper stock and put those values into the paper swatch. Now choose and edit the text color (while keeping Overprint Preview on) to make sure that your text will look good on the paper.

“Or, you could just choose a white paper and then you’ll know that your text will be the color you want it to.”

It wasn’t the answer he wanted. It wasn’t the visual effect he was going for, but unfortunately unless you’re using a printing method that uses an opaque ink on paper (not toner, not dye) then your options are limited.


2 Responses

  1. so how do you solve the problem to show the right colors on that paper? i tried to use the complimentary color but it still showed green.

  2. zayno, I think I need more information about the problem you’re encountering. What color ink do you wish to use and what color is your paper? If you’re using colored paper, and you’ve set your Paper swatch to resemble the color of your paper, you should be able to see the green color you’re getting in InDesign.

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