Design & Publishing _/_ DT&G

Illegal Colors

"This is the Color Police!" We've got you surrounded! Put down your illegal colors and come out with your hands up!..."

__ O.K., there are no Color Police, but there are illegal colors. Illegal colors are those colors which you can pick on your computer that will not reproduce using traditional CMYK offset printing. For example, open the Apple color wheel. Set the brightness as high as it can be and click on the aqua color at nine o'clock on the wheel. You see that bright, glowy, neon-like color? Isn't it beautiful?
__ Too bad, it's illegal. There is no way that ordinary CMYK inks can reproduce that color.
__ Most people get into illegal color trouble when they pick a color that looks great on the screen, and then have the job printed using process colors. They then complain to the print shop that the job looks dull, that all the brightness is gone. That's the fault of picking illegal colors. You won't get arrested but you will be disappointed in the output. The following is a list of some of the popular desktop publishing program and how they handle illegal colors.
__ You know those default colors of blue, green and red in Quark? They're illegal! Go to Edit - Colors, and choose the green and then Edit. The color was created using the RGB or video mode for picking colors. Change the mode to CMYK and watch what happens to the green.
All the brightness and glow will be instantly sucked out of the color. To avoid picking illegal colors, don't pick your colors while in the RGB mode.
Adobe PageMaker
__ Choose Element - Define colors and you will see the default colors of blue, green, and red. Choose one and then edit. Compare the color in both the RGB and CMYK modes. The screen preview does not change. What you see on the screen is the same for both modes.
__ This is impossible. PageMaker 5.0 does carry a warning for its color libraries that the screen colors may not match printed colors. But who reads warnings? Again, the best way to pick a color is in the CMYK mode.
__ If you choose an illegal color using the RGB mode, as soon as you choose Process colors, the screen representation is immediatley converted to its closest legal counterpart. This is rather clever since spot colors can be illegal (see below).
__ RGB mode has only been recently added to the latest version of Illustrator. Before, you couldn't pick an illegal color in Illustrator because all colors are created using their CMYK values. Ah, so simple. It's best to work in Illustrator's default -- which is CMYK.
Adobe Photoshop
__ If you're working in the RGB mode, Photoshop lets you pick any illegal color you want. But as soon as you do Photoshop displays an exclamation point (!) warning you its an illegal color. If you click on the exclamation point, Photoshop will substitute the closest legal color - guaranteed to be much duller than the illegal one you picked. And as soon as you convert from RBG to CMYK, Photoshop will convert all your beautiful illegal colors into dull legal ones.
If you're working in the CMYK mode, Photoshop lets you choose illegal colors but you'll actually put down the legal equivalent. Finally, for those who are using Photoshop for video output you can apply the NTSCT filter to convert to legal video colors. This excludes certain bright cyans and aquas.
Fractal Design Painter
__ Painter lets you choose illegal colors. But if you check the Printable Colors Only option in the color palette, Painter will automatically substitute the closest legal color. You can also convert Painter documents to legal colors, by choosing Effects - Tonal Control - Enforce Printable Colors. This can be done to an entire illustration or just a selection. Painter also lets you convert to legal video colors. Choose Effects - Tonal Control - Video Legal Colors. This can be chosen for either the American NTSCT or European PAL systems.

Legal Reasons for Illegal Colors
__ Whenever I teach about illegal colors, my students ask why the Macintosh allows you to choose illegal colors. There are two answers.
(1) Because they're not illegal to video output. Many people are use Photoshop and Painter to create video images. They're also not illegal to slide output which is why Adobe Persuasion and Deltagraph Pro let you choose all those beatiful illegal colors.
(2) Because you can choose an illegal color to represent a spot color.
__ So if you're going to print your job with some amazing flourescent or metallic color, go ahead and pick whatever illegal color looks closest. Of course it really doesn't matter what color you pick since the print shop will actually be mixing the ink. In fact, you probably will want to attach a color swatch to your film output because unless you bring the printer over to your office, he's not going to see the illegal color you picked.
__ If your jobs are going to be printed using traditional 4-color process, stick with the traditional CMYK colors. Don't just click on the color wheel to pick a color. Take your time to type in the correct CMYK values. Because the Color Police are watching.
Sandee Cohen
__ Sandee Cohen is a desktop publishing educator and consultant in New York City. Let her know you're being a good designer and using only Legal Colors!

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Thank you for reading: Copyright 1993, for Sandee Cohen, All Rights Reserved. Reproduction or reuse of parts or all of this manuscript without prior written permission is expressly forbidden.