The Importance of Color Management in Packaging

Color Consistency, Predictability and Repeatability Demand Good Color Management

Packaging is arguably the most visible component of marketing, and certainly one of the most important. The human eye is perceptive to even the slightest differences in color, and studies have shown that such slight differences and inconsistencies in packaging can have a significant impact on consumers’ perception of the product inside. According to one study, people make up their mind within 90 seconds of their initial interactions with products, and as much as 90% of the assessment is based on color alone.

Brand owners stake their careers on maintaining consistency and integrity in the market, yet they will often rush a product to market without considering the impact of poor color management in the packaging supply chain. Of course, poor color management is symptomatic of a much larger problem global brands face with regards to packaging: lack of control.

Maintaining consistent color quality across different packaging SKUs is hard enough with one packaging supplier, let alone multiple suppliers. If those packaging suppliers are located on the other side of the globe, color management becomes even trickier—assuming you even have the right people and processes in place to manage color quality and consistency from thousands of miles away.

Managing Color from Half a World Away

Packaging supply chain partners, from brand owners to press operators, assume “color management” refers to measurement tools and software used to calibrate print devices to ensure the brightness, tonality and hue specified by designers match the color parameters used in production. Colorimeters, spectrophotometers and color management systems (CMS) are certainly important, but there are many other factors that affect the consistency, predictability and repeatability of color printing, especially when your suppliers are located overseas.

Packaging Material

Paper and film substrates accept ink differently, depending on factors such as weight, opacity and surface tension. If your packaging designers and engineers have specified a particular material, one of the challenges of maintaining consistent and repeatable results comes down to whether you’re actually getting what you paid for.

Color management may also be an issue because:

  • The order that inks are put on a material can affect color consistency, this is more so in flexographic printing than lithographic printing. Printing of inks should always go from light to dark in CMYK.
  • The mixing of inks can affect color
  • Varnishes also change colors. UV varnish will be different than an aqueous varnish.

Matching colors without technical know-how and the necessary tools adds to the probability of there being inconsistencies and quality issues.

Viewing Conditions

Color can appear dramatically different with even the slightest differences in viewing conditions. Even with color codes and spectrum data, the conditions under which packaging suppliers view samples and contact proofs can create inconsistencies in the final product. For example, while the US standard for spectrophotometers is D50 (sunlight at 5,000 Kelvins), the standard for printing in China is D65. This means US-based packaging designers and engineers are looking at color samples under different light conditions compared to packaging printers in Asia.


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Color Communication

Color communication between packaging designers and packaging printers can quickly become a game of telephone without the right people and processes in place to ensure that the right color information is delivered throughout the supply chain. Again, the issue comes down to lack of control. Who are your factories working with? What printing processes are they using? What quality control steps are in place? How is color communicated between suppliers and printers? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you can’t be sure that the color you communicate to the factories is the same at every point where information is exchanged. 

Color References

Another complicating issue in color management is assurance that packaging suppliers and printers are using the same reference materials. For example, if the printers are referencing an outdated edition of the Pantone Formula Guide, the packaging may not match the color specified by your designers (Pantone recommends replacing swatch books annually).

Similarly, if the packaging is designed and proofed using Pantone spot colors but your suppliers use CMYK printing, the specified colors cannot be accurately and consistently reproduced. Pantone color books include CMYK equivalents for most colors, but these are always approximations. Except for a limited group of colors available from Pantone, most of the nearly 1,900 spot colors in the PMS library cannot be simulated.

Is Your Packaging Supplier Actively Involved in Color Management?

Ultimately, good color management in packaging is a matter of quality control. There is a lot that goes into ensuring a level of consistency, predictability and repeatability that makes stakeholders comfortable that the proof they sign off on will match the actual product on the shelves. If you don’t have the people or processes in place to manage the systematic creation, evaluation and verification of color in packaging, Billerud has the answer. 

As your single point of contact for all packaging needs in Southeast Asia, including color management, Billerud makes the complex world of packaging simple. We advise on printing practices and maintain color management and print testing programs for some of the largest global brands. Our color management competencies include:

  • Idealliance G7 Master Facility, compliance level: Colorspace (10+ years certified)
  • X-rite Spectrophotometers used throughout manufacturing footprint
  • In-house color standard definition and management
  • Litho standard to within 2deltaE CMC
  • Flexo standard to within 3deltaE CMC

We place quality control personnel in key areas of the supply chain to control your brand’s colors.


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Colour is important to your brand's integrity, and has a huge impact on the end user's first tangible impression of your organisation.

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