Color Gamut: What Really Matters

Posted by James “Nat” Davis & Stephanie Gallagher on May 27, 2020 6:37:00 PM

Expanded gamut is a hot topic in the printing industry. Whether its flexo, digital, or hybrid technology, a lot of people have a strong interest in the matter. This is the primary reason why so many label press manufacturers, including Mark Andy, have developed technology to support it.

All the buzz begs the question- what are we really after? The Mark Andy Prepress team would contend that expanded gamut is really about how many consumer brand and PANTONE colors can be simulated utilizing the process inks (CMYK or CMYK+OGV) in the press configuration without having to order spot colors or go to the ink room and mix a specific ink color.

Theoretically, this provides time savings on make readies and the a reduction in the resources used to get finished product off the press. Focus for printers should be placed on achieving the best possible color match, rather than fixating on how many process inks are available to achieve a desirable match within a given tolerance.


Converters don’t want to use more inks than necessary. What makes expanded gamut, EG for short, attractive is the ability to not have to keep a large inventory of spot inks on hand. Instead, one can simulate these colors utilizing the standard process ink configuration.The perception in the market is that expanded gamut saves on materials and setup time for press operators between print runs. Need for quicker turn around on the production floor is driving the demand for an EG solution. What many are not taking into consideration are some of the basic variables that can have a great impact on the measured achievable color matching capabilities of traditional 4 color process plus white.

It’s important to recognize the fact that every substrate has different physical properties and measurable color values, each yielding a different effect on the overall color gamut that can be produced within a given tolerance. Known as a "white point", this can have a great impact on how big an output device’s color gamut is on a given material. Shawn Oetjen does an excellent job of laying out the basics of this concept in an article published on Label & Narrow Web’s site. The piece is top-notch and we highly encourage taking a look at it. The key take-away from the article is that the LAB values of the media can have a distinguishable effect on printed results.

Label Solutions_Color Chart.png

Something that will have a major impact on color gamut is the ink set used in the standard configuration of the press. There is a lot of ink out there, specific to various printing processes and media. Each ink set holds unique characteristics, such as pigment load, binders and photo initiators.

In the label and packaging industry GRACoL (General Requirements for Applications in Commercial Offset Lithography) is the most widely used color standard and is managed by Idealliance. Since it was developed in 1966, it is the most common and generally accepted color standard for converters while managing color on press. The coated PANTONE Color Bridge book gives a side by side visual comparison of the solid ink color versus the CMYK simulated variation. The common belief is that at a minimum, a press configuration with CMYK should be able to match these simulated inks to a level that meets the color requirements of most brand owners.

Expanded gamut generally mandates adding orange, green and violet (OGV) process ink stations or print bars to the color setup of the machine. The intention of this is to widen the gamut of custom or speciality color profiles the press can match at a preferred tolerance. However, the addition of these 3 process colors will not completely open the restrictions on certain colors. It’s nearly impossible to extend the color gamut in a way that allows 100% one-to-one matches of every PANTONE shade.

Color guide closeup-1.jpeg

In the world of digital printing, most ink sets are customized and created for the output device they will be used on. This degree of customization has pushed many ink vendors and OEM’s to invest heavily in the development of specialty inks. These ink chemistries are designed with purer and higher pigment loads amongst other specific properties that are application dependent. Specialty inks can yield a higher level of Chroma which leads to, achievable gamut space and better color matching capabilities. It boils down to the fact not all ink sets are created equal. Depending on the ink to paper combination, and the unique properties pertaining to each of these variables, the color space that is achievable can far exceed the generally perceived outcome.

When evaluating a color space, the most relevant question to ask yourself is: how many of the customer's specific brand colors can be achieved within an acceptable tolerance on a known substrate. Whether they are custom inks or standard Pantone inks, the more you can match the better. Even better is finding the right combinations and profiles to match these without expensive spot colors and the downtime associated with mixing the custom shades.The Percentage of PANTONE colors that are achievable becomes irrelevant, as it is very rare that 100% of the PANTONE ink colors are actually required during the production runs, and nonetheless have the same matching requirements as the end customer’s specific brand colors.

Mark Andy Digital Series has a custom, highly specialized ink set

Mark Andy has spent years working with our partners to develop special ink sets for our award-winning Digital Series hybrid label press. If there are any questions regarding our technology’s ability to match brand colors, we encourage you to talk to a Mark Andy Prepress Applications Specialist. They will be able to provide the answers to your questions and in return you will receive a deep understanding of color management and color reproduction capabilities of our narrow web platforms.

New Call-to-action

About the Author

This post was co-authored by two members of the Mark Andy team.

James “Nat” Davis is a Digital Product Manager at Mark Andy. In this role, Nat wears many hats to support our full production hybrid solutions. When he’s not enjoying the great outdoors or working on his wood carving art, he can be found in our demo room brainstorming ways to propel Digital Series into the future.

Stephanie Gallagher, Digital Prepress Solutions Administrator at Mark Andy, is a solutions and support provider for the Mark Andy Digital Series demo center. She has a passion for design and printing and is inspired by Mark Andy’s digital technology to create and innovate.

How important is color consistency to your operation? Share some stories below to get the conversation started!

Topics: Flexo, Digital Hybrid, Design