Midnight. Six people are huddled around a sink in the women’s restroom. Except for me, all are men. In this vast printing plant—ablaze with sulphur, neon and mercury lights—one pathetic 60-watt bulb is the only incandescent light we can find.
Is my Christmas catalog cover green in ordinary room light (as intended) or silver? My sales rep peers through the gloom at a just-printed sample in my hand. “I could convince myself that’s green,” he says.
Color-correct lights aren’t always the best for viewing color. They do ensure that everyone in the industry views proofs and printed samples under similar lighting conditions.
Unfortunately, the most important viewers (our customers) don’t have color correct lights at all. In fact, consumers often don’t even have incandescents. Fluorescents are appearing more and more in consumer homes, because they conserve electricity.
In this marketing context, it can be dangerous to view your color only under color-correct lighting, especially if you’re selling food, high-end apparel or other color-critical merchandise.
The point of color-correcting our catalogs is to offer images that arouse consumer expectations in ways that the actual product will satisfy (otherwise, returns will kill you).
Color-correct lights at color houses and printers generally are too bright and too white, compared to consumer lighting. That’s why many catalogers routinely take their final proofs and press samples outside for a last look before signing off, and check them under fluorescents and incandescents, too. (F.Y.I.: Women’s bathrooms still tend to have an incandescent bulb or two, so women checking their makeup won’t look like ghosts.)
Meanwhile, back at the plant, the expensive inkjet printer slowly printed out a test grid on very expensive inkjet paper using even more expensive inkjet cartridges. Nearby, our ridiculously expensive desktop color expert smiled as we compared the finished sheet with the color blocks on his test pattern. The match was perfect.