Artwork 101: Files and Color Models

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In this post we’re getting back to basics. We’re talking about the common artwork terms and color models referenced in design and customization of promotional products like writing instruments. If you’re a promo industry veteran, this post would be a great one to share with anyone new to the industry, as it helps answer some of the most common questions for folks new to print and promo.

The Artwork

First, let’s begin with the artwork, which is what (i.e. logo or company URL) a customer would like to imprint on a promotional product. The two terms commonly associated with artwork include vector (the preferred type of artwork for printing promotional products) and raster.

Vector art is created using an illustration software program like Adobe Illustrator, which uses mathematical equations to create intricate, path-based shapes that together create an image such as a logo. Every detail in the image—lines, curves, strokes of color—relates back to a vector path (or mathematically based instruction) that allows an image to be scaled larger or smaller without sacrificing the quality of the image.

No matter how much you zoom in, the image and text of vector artwork files will remain the same. This makes for an ideal file type when printing a variety of media and sizes—from pens with a small imprint area to outdoor banners with a large imprint area. Typical forms of vector art include EPS, PDF and AI.

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View the change in image quality between vector art vs. raster art when the images are zoomed in at 150%.

Text to vector conversion, or outlining texts or type, refers to changing typed text into graphic shapes to create a vector image. This helps to ensure that every computer and printer can accurately read and output all fonts provided. Text to vector art conversions are particularly important when working with custom-designed fonts that wouldn’t be readily found on all computers.

Raster art is composed of millions of tiny square pixels that each contain information about one color. Together, these millions of pixels create a single image. Photographs and scanned images are examples of raster art. Unlike vector art that maintains the integrity (quality) of the image at all times, the small square pixels that form raster art become visible as you zoom in on the image (think “pixelated”). And while raster art files can be reduced in size, they cannot be enlarged without the image becoming blurry. Typical forms of raster art include JPG, PNG, and TIFF files.

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Difference between painting with pixels (left) and drawing with vectors (right).

The Color Models

Next, let’s go over the common color models often referenced in design: Pantone, CMYK and RGB.

Pantone Matching System (PMS) is a color system that contains premixed inks that create a single solid color, also referred to as a spot color. While there are roughly 1,800 PMS spot colors, each color can be tinted (lightened) by adding white, toned by adding gray, or shaded (darkened) by adding black, bringing the potential number of PMS color variances into the millions.

*Promo Fact: Every year Pantone releases their Color of the Year, which is then often featured in consumer goods like clothing and household items, and even promotional products.

Color Wheel

CMYK color model is based on four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black). Often referred to as 4-color or full-color process, CMYK allows for detailed color matching and gradients of color. The CMYK model subtracts and/or layers various intensities of cyan, magenta and yellow to achieve a desired result, making it possible to translate a given color or palette of colors, including PMS colors, into CMYK. It is used for printing materials like paper goods and branded full-color drinkware and pens.

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CMYK direct digital imprint (ColorJet™ technology) on a soft-touch rubberized metal pen barrel.
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CMYK wraparound digital imprint (SimpliColor® technology) on a plastic pen barrel.

RGB color model is used for digital images like logos formatted for websites or social media graphics, and is based on three colors: red, green and blue. The RGB color model adds and mixes layers of light to create a desired image to be displayed on electronic devices like computer and television screens.

In printing material (tangible) items we always work in CMYK (4-color or full-color processing), never RGB.

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View the difference in color of a print-ready image (CMYK) vs. a web-ready image (RGB), as electronically displayed here.

To learn more about general artwork information and requirements, visit our website and explore all the ways to customize and decorate branded promotional products.

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