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24 March 2014 21:00


I think, perhaps, it’s time to take the bull by the horns and talk about colour.

Colour is a very complex area and potentially contentious.  I remember a family argument about a black velvet skirt.  Or was it navy blue?  It depended on the light.  And my husband and I used to have ‘disagreements’ about a certain orange towel.  (Orange towel?  You mean the yellow one?)

In terms of computers and printing, colour is vitally important, and very confusing.  I will try to give you some help, without going into long explanations; if you want to know more, a good first try might be Wikipedia, bearing in mind its limitations.

The difference between a screen (coloured light comes out of the flat surface) and fabric (light bounces off the surface which folds and drapes) means that colours will look different on your computer screen and when printed on the fabric.  Even printing the same design with exactly the same colours on different fabric may not give a consistent result.  The colours may well look different, especially if the base colour of the fabric is slightly different.

On top of that, fabric moves.  Colours may look the same one moment and different the next.

That makes it difficult to be sure what your design, as seen on your computer screen, will look like when printed.  The safest way to be sure colours on your fabric will be as you want them, is to order a test swatch of your design.  However, there are things you can do to get as close as possible before ordering.

It is possible to calibrate a computer screen so that colours show more accurately.  However, this sounds like a tricky thing to do, to me.  It might be simpler to accept any old shade of blue!  However, sometimes it is important to match a colour as closely as possible.

Your computer will use RGB colour space.  RGB stands for red, green and blue – you’d never have guessed that, would you?  These are a computer’s primary colours.  Our printer also works in RGB, which should makes things a little simpler.  RGB is one way of describing colour, using numbers denoting the quantity of each of the three colours, eg crimson is 220 20 60.  Colours can also be described using hexadecimal numbers, which are basically the RGB codes in a different form.   So the hex code for the same crimson is  #DC143C.

Using these codes means there is no ambiguity about a colour.  If you have seen and liked how #DC143C looks when printed on your fabric , if you input #DC143C, rather than just picking up any red, your design will be printed the same colour on the same fabric.  Programs like Photoshop allow you to choose a hex code or RGB number, instead of just picking a colour.

Have I lost you yet?

So, if exact colour-matching is important, you need to see the colours you want printed on the fabric you will be using.   Unfortunately, the colour map showing a range of colours available, which comes with our software, does not use either RGB or hex numbers.  So we are working on our own version.  Unfortunately, it is taking a while, but we’ll have it ready as soon as possible.  We sell a fat quarter colour chart which shows more than 170 colours and we also have a one metre version, prepared by Palette of Sylvie Heasman, which shows hundreds of colours.  Or you can prepare your own.

This will not show all the possibilities.  With our water-based inks you can create millions of different colours.  (I think the official number is 16 million.)  Our pigment inks may print lighter than you might expect, especially where darker colours such as dark red and black are concerned.   Dark colours which are similar may blend together when printed;  good contrasts print better.   Dark colours work well as detail;  they do not work so well in large blocks.   With digital printing, it is possible to use fine detail, as long as there is good colour contrast.    We print on white or natural-coloured  fabric, and do not use white ink.  White is created by an absence of ink.

Remember that what you see on your screen is not necessarily what you get printed onto your fabric.  If the exact colour is important, use hex numbers to choose your colour in your design program and get a swatch printed before you order a long length.

Hope that's helped a bit and not confused you entirely! 

Images at the top and bottom from and The Colour Guru.  Robin design by Rowena Taylor.