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PMS 286C or 286U?

Well, that used to be an easy question…..

In the recent past, before the quality and affordability of digital printing became what it has, the answer to the question “do I use a PMS colour from the coated or uncoated swatch in my design?” was very simple to answer.  It didn’t matter either way!  Spot PMS (Pantone Matching System) “C” or “U” colours are actually exactly the same ink, the “C” or “U” indicates whether the colour shown in the swatch was printed on a coated (C) or uncoated (U) paper.  Since printing inks are liquid and translucent, the paper they are printed on will greatly affect the finished look of an offset printed piece.  Typically a coated sheet will give you a much more vibrant colour which often times can make a colour look a lot lighter on a coated sheet than an uncoated sheet, this is even more noticeable on darker colours.  This is mostly do to the fact that ink will sit on the top of a coated sheet but will soak into a more porous uncoated sheet.

In digital printing it’s actually now become a completely different story.  Since a digital print is a 4 colour CMYK representation of the colour you’ve chosen, the “C” and “U” designations can now have a pretty big impact on the finished printed piece.  Choosing a coated or “C” colour will often (but not always) give you a more vibrant printed colour which sounds great but might actually not be that close of a match to things you’ve had previously printed offset in the past.  This tends to happen quite often when comparing offset printed letterhead and envelopes (which are almost always done on an uncoated paper) to a digitally printed job where the colours were set to coated colours.

These sorts of small (but sometimes very noticeable) variables are something we deal with everyday in our shop.  It’s usually best to ask us before designing your piece about how it’ll likely be printed (offset vs. digital).  Once we’ve determined that, we can compare it to how things you’ve had done previously were printed and be able to give you some good advice on how to design this project.  Another option is to have us design it for you to make sure we’re using the best methods possible for your project.  Of course, we’re happy to produce a proof for you to make sure the finished piece will turn out the way you want it to be.