5 steps to effectively manage brand color — Labels and Packaging

I’ll never forget the first meeting with a new prospect. the VP of Operations pulled me into his office and laid out a spread of labels on his desk. The colors lay bare and appeared to be spectrum ranging from dark blue to light purple across film, paper, and shrink sleeves.

“These are all supposed to be the same Pantone color. Creative and marketing is constantly coming down on me because of our label vendor. I need help!”

Sadly, this is a reality for so many different consumer product goods (CPG) companies, especially those who rely on Co packers and contract manufacturers for production.

The problem stems not from working with partners, but in color interpretation. One printer may interpret PMS 542 different than another. How you say? Some printers don’t do draw downs. Some printers use visual as a primary QA check. Some use X-Rite. Some use inline color correction. Some use…the list goes on. Forget if you need to use a metallized substrate or are trying to manage color across different packaging mediums like folding cartons, shrink sleeves, labels, corrugated, and flexible packaging AND then adding in off set vs flexo vs digital vs gravure vs ink jet.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, I think it’s a helpful starting point for brand owners looking to control their color process.

  1. Use Pantone as a starting point only — What I mean here is that the Pantone color guide is a great place to start, but it’s too dynamic to be the end all be all. If you are a big fan of UNC and want to use PMS 542 on your brand, that’s great! Start there, but it’s a guide at this point and not your standard
  2. Create a standard for every substrate — while the Pantone color guide book is great, the digital library is even better because it can give objective numbers to share across multiple printers. My suggestion is to find the toughest substrate/process and start there with draw downs. Get as close as you can to the color and then reorient and create standards for each substrate after that going back to the color from the hardest to hit. Getting 542 to a near perfect match on C1S SBS board is different than a clear shrink sleeve against a clear bottle with red juice in it.
  3. Us a consistent color quality check system — This is where a partner like X-rite can be handy. We solved this issue by standardizing our color check processes with our customers internal and giving them the equipment internally to double check on receipt. While it’s not always doable, you’ve got to have a packaging printing partner willing to get into the weeds a bit and help you. If not, you’ll end up with significant color drift over time
  4. Make sure your packaging printer has a standard — sounds like common sense, but I’ve seen printers who use the last accepted run as their next quality check which is like a bad game of telephone. If color moves light by 1.5 delta, and then again, then again, you end up with a color that’s 4.5 delta from the original standard and it’s clear to the eye. ENSURE that your printers understand the importance of color quality. You don’t want to have to babysit every order that comes in.
  5. Look for 3rd party audits — Printers can say they can do all sorts of stuff, but having an independent 3rd party (G7, GMI, SGS, etc) who can validate can be super helpful. Some companies choose to use an art house to control it and others will ask for the audit. I’m a believer in reducing risk this way. It won’t fully alleviate the risk because printing is still an art, but it helps understand what guide rails the printer is being held to.

Each company and each packaging printer is different and these are simply suggestions to help companies avoid color drift and color issues.

I’m happy to discuss further if needed. You can book time or send me a note at www.adampeek.com

I help food, beverage, direct sales, personal care, and CBD/Cannabis companies use labeling and flexible packaging to sustainably sell products