Have you ever wondered how standard printing manages to replicate so many colours from so few actual inks? With just 4 inks at play (cyan, magenta, yellow and black), it’s staggering when you think about it – a whole rainbow and more can be rendered while, at the same time, the palest of pale hues are possible despite the original 4 individual inks used in the machine being, on their own, quite punchy and saturated.
The secret is the use of tiny spaced out dots, called ‘tints’. So, for example, the ‘sky blue’ ink called cyan can be printed as anything from a grid of tiny spaced dots to a full solid. The solid will obviously still look like sky blue but the smallest spaced dots at the other end of the scale will end up looking, to the naked eye, like a very pale blue. The printing trade grades these tints as percentages (i.e. a percentage of how ‘solid’ they are) where 100% is solid cyan and 1% is the palest of pale tints.
This process is taken a stage further by overlapping the tints or solids of each of the 4 ‘process’ colours as they’re also known. So a solid magenta (rich pink) overlapping a solid process yellow will result in a primary red being visible to the onlooker. 50% tints of each of those will result in a mid pink, 10% tints of each resulting in a very pale pink and so on. Similarly process yellow overlapped with process cyan will result in various shades of green, depending on the tint value used. It is this type of overlapping of tints, mixed to a much more complex level, which allows the 4 colours to mimic full colour photographs like you see in magazines and in printed brochures.
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