Printbuyers Online

Color Variation in Short-run Printing

Answered by Suzanne Morgan

One of my biggest challenges is to print short-run jobs. We print offset on board stock and the quantity can be as small as 20,000 pieces. The challenge we face is managing color variations. I understand that variations are inherent in printing, particularly on short runs. My printers assure me that they are doing everything they can to minimize variations, but we are still seeing inconsistencies in our four-color process jobs that we consider unacceptable.

Can you help me understand how I should determine an acceptable range of variation when viewing "pleasing color"?

I would be concerned about the variation of color, too. You should expect more consistency than you seem to be getting.

  • The printer may be experiencing these problems for a number of reasons: If they have to stop the press often due to paper problems, the color can get out of control. It takes a while to get backup to color; on short runs, they may always be working to get up to color. The printer may decide that it is more important to avoid other flaws caused by the paper - hickeys, for instance -- than to get the color right.

  • Sometimes the makeready sheets accidentally get mixed in with the good sheets. If the production people don't catch this, then a portion of your job will definitely be unsatisfactory.

Here's what you can do next time:

  • Have your printer pull press sheets with color bars at 500 or 1,000 intervals. This will encourage the operators to "tighten it up" and be more aware of the variations. They should be using densitometers and/or other tools to measure the color to achieve consistencies.

  • If you haven't been doing so, start making press checks. While the pressman is pulling the press sheets, be sure he understands what is acceptable and what isn't - and don't waver!

  • Since you've been having these problems often, you may also request that the printer time stamp the job throughout the run. Again, this encourages more quality control.

  • If you can, in advance of the press run, provide previously printed samples of what is acceptable and what isn't.

Have we missed something important? Feel free to add to our list. Send me an e-mail with your recommendations at title your e-mail "color variation."

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