Color Accuracy of Screen-Printed Inks and Full-Color Printing

What to expect about how colors
will appear on your license plates

How closely will the colors shown in our standard color charts or on your tag design preview page match those on your printed license plates? Since computer monitors can and do vary significantly from one to the next in their depiction of color, the swatches shown in our standard color charts will match actual ink colors only approximately. Likewise, with designs that employ process-color printing using the full color spectrum, the actual finished result may also vary somewhat from what you see on your computer monitor.

In labeling the color chart swatches, we have tried in the majority of cases to use color names that are commonly understood to mean certain colors and hues that just about everyone should be familiar with. The explanatory text below some of the swatches should also help better describe the color where needed. Use whatever you may be seeing on your computer screen as a guide, but trust the color name and/or description more.

For example, most people know that forest green is a dark green that looks more like the color of pine trees, while kelly green is a regular middle-of-the-road green more like the color of vivid green grass. However, a given monitor may display forest green closely, while at the same time kelly green could appear shifted toward blue more than it really is. Navy blue which is very dark might look lighter than it actually is. Pantone Warm Red may look somewhat melon-colored instead of its actual orange-red hue. Or scarlet red may appear color-shifted toward brown or russet somewhat, and so on.

“Pleasing color” vs. exact color. Screen-printing inks are vivid and give good “pleasing color.” This is what matters to most people, so take that into account with respect to the above comments about color variation between computer monitors. Remember, too, that a common color name may also mean a slightly different color to one person than it does to another. As long as the color is pleasing or “in the ballpark,” however, most license plates are not so color-critical that variations in color expectation matter to most customers. If you do need exact color, supplying a Pantone/ PMS number or sending us a physical item with the color to match is essential and required.

The only guarantee of a close color match (as any printer will tell you) is to furnish either a physical item or a PMS number selected from a physically printed Pantone swatch book. Viewing a PMS color on a computer monitor — even in professional publishing applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, FreeHand, CorelDraw, Quark, PageMaker, InDesign, etc. — isn’t the same. If you aren’t conversant with the Pantone system or don’t have access to a swatch book (try your local quick-print shop), we can furnish an inkjet proof as a substitute if you have serious concerns. While still not a guarantee of color (inkjet inks are different than actual screen-printing inks) it will be more accurate than relying on computer monitors, and of some help.

Process-color limitations. Also known as full-color or CMYK printing (CMYK stands for the primary colors — Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, plus “K” for black — used to generate the full color spectrum), process-color can reproduce a good deal of the complete rainbow of colors, however there are limits. Highly saturated hues particularly in the blue, green, and purple range cannot be achieved with process-color printing and will appear more muted. For this reason, CMYK process-color is approximate when it comes to color accuracy. Similarly, since many Pantone colors — which are single, pure colors — are often highly saturated and cannot be reproduced within the limits of CMYK’s color “gamut” or range, color-matching is not offered with our process-color plates. That said, we will always do our best to get as close as we can, of course.

For additional information about color accuracy, including the differences in the ink pigments used in screen-printing vs. regular commercial printing, see the related discussion on our FAQ (frequently asked questions) page.

Metallic silver, gold, and copper appearance

True metallic look but not glittery/sparkly. The simulated metallic silver, gold, and copper swatches shown in the color charts are rough approximations only, just a guideline as to the hue. For those unfamiliar, metallic inks have a true metallic look or sheen, with a finish that’s slightly textured or granular in effect. (Not overtly glittery or sparkly, though — that is, no visible flakes.) Metallic colors are formulated using fine powders mixed with the ink itself. For obvious cost reasons, in the printing industry metallic gold and copper are mixed using a bronze powder, and metallic silver with an aluminum powder, with the metallic effect less pronounced for silver than for gold or copper.

Metallic appearance best within a short distance. Keep in mind the metallic appearance is mostly noticeable within a distance of, say, 20–30 feet or less from the license plate, less so farther away. Silver for instance will look more like gray from a distance, with metallic gold and copper’s effect holding up for a somewhat longer distance before it begins to look more like a regular color without much metallic appearance. (Yellow-brown for gold, and brown for copper.) Metallic inks do add a look of refinement or elegance — just remember the effect is best the closer you get to the tag.