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The History Of The CMYK Colour Model

May 2nd, 2016

In 1906, the Eagle Printing Ink Company incorporated the four-colour wet process inks for the first time. These four colours were cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (also known as key), hence the name CMYK. It was discovered that these four colours can be combined to produce an almost unlimited number of richer, darker tones.

Printing Ink

Where the aforementioned colour wheel uses an additive colour model, CMYK is considered a subtractive model. The additive theory reflects how light interacts, whereas the subtractive color model reflects how pigments mix to form new colours.

CMYK standardizes the printing industry

In 1956, Pantone Inc. consulted a chemist to reduce the complexity of their printing process. The ink supply was reduced to a simpler system, using a smaller number of inks to produce a boundless range of colours. Their greatest contribution to the industry was to introduce the Pantone Colour Matching System.

Ink manufacturers around the world consider the Pantone colour as standard. Even though most Pantone colours cannot be achieved from mixing the CMYK colours alone, the company recognizes its significance in the industry and indicate which ones can be reproduced on the CMYK model. Interestingly, Pantone uses 14 pigments to create 1,114 unique colours.

All the dots line up

CMYK printing uses a method called half-toning to create different intensities of colour while saving on ink. The technique has been used by printing presses since the 1850s, and was adapted for the CMYK model to expand the colours that could be made.

The basic technique involves using little dots instead of solid blocks of ink. These little dots are small and spaced evenly apart so that the human eye sees it as a solid colour. If you look closely at the images printed in most newspapers, you’ll see that those solid pictures are actually comprised of these small dots.

Interesting but unintended visual effects can happen if the layers of dots are aligned. To prevent these undesirable effects, the dots are printed at a slant on four different angles.

The future of CMYK

Today, an emerging method of full-colour printing is six-colour process printing. Pantone uses this in their Hexachrome system. This method adds orange and green to the traditional CMYK inks for much more expansive and vibrant color range.

Even though this method is more advanced in terms of numbers of colours, it still relies on traditional techniques like colour separation, halftoning and lithography.

Introducing the Extended Colour Gamut

In 2015 Pantone introduced its expanded Gamut coated guide, which introduces a seven-colour printing process. This includes CMYK colours, orange, green and violet. The Extended Colour Gamut is meant to increase the efficiency with which colours are created. What was done in the ink room can now be done in prepress. This process is becoming mainstream and as a result, it is a standardized reference for brand owners, designers and printers.

CMYK Colour Model

What are the benefits?

In addition to efficiency and standardization, ECG removes many of the limitations designers face and allows them to focus on creativity. For pre-press printers, it makes operations much more efficient. There is lower ink consumption and greater consistency in quality.

Companies can gain huge savings over the lifetime of a particular brand. The more it is accepted within the printing industry, the better it will be for everyone. The guide that Pantone provides assists firms in implementing the process without encountering too much trial and error, and users can reap the benefits much faster.

Colour Trends in the Printing Industry

Designers are now able to play with a much wider range of colours, but what are the colours to be using in print this year?

A return to simplicity

Brands are going back to simple colour designs. With the extravagant use of colours, the key is now to do less in order to stand out from the crowd, not more.

Blue is Back

With global warming and the threat of rising oceans, blue is becoming a popular choice of colour for many brands. People also have a better appreciation of the meaning of the colour itself, which is often associated with calm, serenity and richness.

Medicinal Orange

The digital age has brought excitement and convenience to people’s’ lives, but it has also caused disruption in health and well-being. More companies are using orange because it is a colour that resonates with the calmness that people seek in the midst of their busy lives.

Neutral colours for neutral genders

There is an increasing trend to emphasise gender neutrality and equality in colour selections. Pink is becoming the colour of choice for neutral as well as mint green. Bright yellow, warm grey and blue black are all in the mix.

Now that there is a wider range of colours for designers to play with, partly thanks to ECG, we may see even more colour trends emerging. If you would like to learn more about your colour and printing options, give us a call or visit us.


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