Why Does Blue Look Purple In Print?

by | Apr 21, 2023

You just sent your brand new brochure to print (finally!) and are super excited!
Once you get the tracking info, you obsess over refreshing the page ‘til it finally says “out for delivery”!

You rip open the box and pull out those gorgeous, custom square, high gloss brochures and … freeze.

They look off. The color is all wrong.
It’s supposed to be blue .. but it’s.. it’s purple.

You call the printer. And your designer. You all run to your laptops and check the colors again.
It looks blue.

You look at the brochure in your hand.
It’s purple.

The printer reprints.
Nothing changes.

And you just want to cry.

Has this ever happened to you?



What’s really going on?

How does color work?

  1. screens display color using the RGB color model (Red, Green, Blue).
  2. in print, the CMYK color model is used (Cyan Magenta, Yellow and Black).

Check out this Wikipedia article for in depth information on the color models and how we see it.

As you see in the above image the colors will on a computer monitor (RGB) are brighter, more neon-like, vs the CMYK colors are more dull and muted.


Why the difference?

Why does the computer use RGB, while CMYK is used for print? RGB is known as an “additive” color model, while CMYK is a “subtractive” color model.

The computer monitor projects color using light, so in an additive color model, red, green, and blue light are added together in various ways to reproduce a broad array of colors. When combined, RGB produces white light.

While the RGB model creates, or adds light, the CMYK model, on the other hand, works by partially or entirely masking colors on a lighter, usually white, background using ink. The ink reduces the light that would otherwise be reflected. Such a model is called subtractive because inks “subtract” brightness from white.


Now what?

When designing for print, you (or your designer) must make sure that your printed materials are designed or prepared within the CMYK color mode. When you begin in CMYK, there will be less of a difference once the design is printed.

However, many times, the colors can still be slightly different than what you were expecting, specifically when printing blues.

Printing blues can be tricky because it is very close to purple within the CMYK spectrum and often times there is too much Magenta mixed in with the Cyan.



Can I fix this issue?

If your design is coming out too purple, the key rule of thumb is to make sure to leave at least a 30% difference in your Cyan and Magenta values. Let’s revisit the initial image below, with modified color values displayed. (You may have to tweak the other values. Black helps a lot to decrease the purple).




Before printing any marketing materials, be sure to print a hard copy first to make sure you are seeing a similar color to your screen. Ask your designer or printer to verify that the colors are good and don’t have pre-press warnings. A reputable printer should be able to catch these color errors.

Choosing the correct mixture of color for both RGB and CMYK will ensure a consistent brand look across all web and print collateral.

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