When the Right Color is Critical

When reproducing art for artists, matching colors is important. But, even when the client is just across town, taking time to meet and compare prints against the original is time consuming. Using video conferencing, we can cut out the hassle of driving to a meeting.

Unfortunately, most people don’t have calibrated monitors. That means what the client sees on their uncalibrated monitor probably doesn’t match what I see on my calibrated monitor. Even if the client’s monitor can be calibrated (some can’t) it needs to be checked regularly to ensure it hasn’t drifted. To quickly test your monitor, compare a can of Coke or Pepsi to the images below.

The left capture is off my calibrated monitor while the right is off an old laptop monitor. This is an extreme case but you get the idea. If color accuracy is important to you and you don’t have a calibrated monitor, you need a printer who will work with you to ensure the colors match.

color calibration - image of a pepsi can and a coke can from a calibrated monitorcolor calibration - image of a pepsi can and a coke can from an old laptop monitor

The best way to ensure a good color match is to mail the original to me. Then I can digitize, color correct and print proofs. I will mail the proofs back to you along with the original. This maintains a consistent workflow throughout the process. Having the initial digital capture (conversion to a digital file) created by the same person who will perform the color corrections and print the final reproduction will go a long way toward reducing “Oops!” moments. However, that’s not always possible.

The next best method is to digitize the original yourself and email the file to me. Then I can color correct and print proofs. Again, I will mail the proofs to you. In order to make this process as smooth as possible, it’s helpful if the artist produces a palette of the colors used while creating the work. You can send your palette to me to match the prints. Below are examples of palettes sent by clients.

palette-1064    palette-0380

By doing this, the artist and I can very closely match the print with the original artwork. As you can see, printing accurate reproductions of your art requires attention to detail and close collaboration. Video conferencing applications make it possible to collaborate just as closely as in person. Further, we can collaborate much more often due to easier meeting coordination.

One last option is to buy a good monitor and a monitor calibration tool. This can seem like an expensive proposition but it can pay dividends in other ways. A “good” monitor generally starts around $500. A quick check of B&H, the largest online photo/video store, shows over 1000 choices ranging from well known brands like NEC and HP to totally obscure entries like GeChic and Upstar. You can certainly do your own research. I’ll give you a head start by recommending this short-list: Acer, Apple, ASUS, BenQ, Dell, Eizo, HP, NEC and Viewsonic. I further winnowed down that list to these 12 monitors that I believe will meet most artists’ needs. My favorite monitor is in that list but I’m not going to point it out to avoid biasing your choice.

Next, you’ll need a monitor calibration tool to create a “profile” that adjusts a monitor’s colors to match a known standard. With your monitor and mine adjusted to the same standard, we can be assured we’re both seeing the same colors on our screens.

Again, turning to B&H, I narrowed down a list of 74 tools to just 9 that will meet most artists’ needs. Prices range from $150 to $1400, but much of the price difference is due to included accessories and software. I’ve used both Datacolor and X-Rite tools. My preference is X-Rite but that’s only because they’ve been more helpful when I had issues.

In summary, depending on your volume, buying a monitor and calibration tool to make online collaborations more efficient and effective might be cost effective. In reality, I would suggest first going the less expensive route of comparing known colors or creating a color palette as you create. Regardless of which route you select, video conferencing has opened up a whole new world. Embrace it and get ahead of the curve.