Violet C is a Lie: One reason color continuity in comic books is so difficult

A big entertainment company creates color call outs for their major properties, often using colors from the Pantone Matching System (PMS). One problem with PMS colors is not all of them can be reproduced using traditional CMYK printing methods. PMS colors are great when you want the color of a toy, cartoon, and video game to match but the same may not be possible for print products like say, COMIC BOOKS!

The client gives the color call outs to the comic book colorist and are often disappointed with the results. Here is an example I am dealing with today. The character has a primarily purple costume. The PMS color is Violet C. You will see some comics with this character wearing BLUE and others with the character wearing PURPLE and Violet C is to blame. You see in CMYK printing Violet C is beyond the scope of what can be accomplished when commingling CYAN and MAGENTA inks. No matter how hard you try you just can not make Violet C using CMYK.

To make matters worse Photoshop’s closest CMYK equevelant for Violet C looks less purple and more blue. So a colorist could use EXACTLY the PMS value specified by the client and end up coloring pages and pages only for the client to reject them… or worse yet actually go to print and end up printing blue instead of purple (explains why you can find both blue and purple versions of this character in print).

To get this color right I needed to open Photoshop’s color picker and visually mix the closest CMYK value that resembled the Violet C hue. It is slightly less vibrant than true Violet C (less brightness & less saturation) and is overall more visually similar to Violet C than Photoshop’s own automatic conversion. Converting my hand mixed swatch back to Pantone values reveals the actual PMS color the client should probably be giving out for CMYK print projects as it looks more like Violet C than anything Photoshop or Illustrator will generate on their own.

What’s the pont to all of this? Sometimes you can do exactly what your client says and still have the project rejected. Being a colorist (or any type of artist) is about decision making. Sometimes you need to ask yourself what the client wants versus what they say they want because they are not always the same thing.

Want to see more comic coloring articles like this one? Be sure to support the Kickstarter campaign to get an updated and revised version of Hi-Fi Color for Comics back in print. The Kickstarter launches Spring 2014… stay tuned to learn how you can get involved and reap the rewards.