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Coloured Text – How to get it Right…

coloured print

Using coloured text in printed magazines and documents is certainly more vibrant than stock standard black text on white stock. However, it can present some potential challenges at the printing stage. In this article, GSM looks at using coloured body text in print documents and how to avoid potential pitfalls…

The use of coloured text is quite likely a knock-on influence from its popularity in digital design. Using colour when designing for screens is easy, as what you see is what you get. But, in the world of offset print, the print process itself adds technical challenges that the designer needs to be aware of.


The key issue with using coloured body text in print is that there is always the potential for misregistration to occur. Misregistration can make your text appear fuzzy and hard to read. In some cases, it can be completely illegible.

In print documents, black body text is easy. Black (when specified as K=100) consists of only one colour separation, i.e. black. Black overprints the other three primary print colours (Cyan, Magenta and Yellow). This is why black is referred to as K (stands for key) – it ‘keys’ the other colours together.

By comparison, using colour in body text means you are introducing a combination of the other primary print colours. This creates the potential for mis-registration to occur. It’s important to note here that minor (hairline) misregistration happens as part of the offset printing process. This occurs for a whole number of reasons outside the direct control of the printer. One example is humidity, which can cause paper stock to expand or shrink ever so slightly. If this occurs between lay-downs of colour, there is the potential for slight mis-registration to occur. Using coloured body text can really exaggerate any slight misregistration. What is otherwise a perfectly good print job, becomes not so good. As a designer, your understanding of printed colour and its effect on body text will make a big difference.

Take a look at the following examples…

Coloured Print Plates

Three or Four Plate Colours (on the left)

In this example on the left, we have used a serif font with a three-plate colour mix (C=80 M=80 Y=30 K=0). Each ‘plate’ is one
of the print primary colours. The body text down the left column of figure 1 is correctly registered. The body text down the right column has been offset to demonstrate the effect of a slight misregistration. (Magenta and Yellow have been offset by a hairline 0.1 mm each). You can clearly see the result, which gets worse the smaller the body text becomes. From 8pt and below, it grows to be very noticeable. The use of three- (or worse again) four-plate colours in body text greatly increases the chance that mis-registration could occur. A much better solution is to use a two-plate or one-plate colour.

Two Plate Colours (centre)

The middle example uses a two-plate colour (C=100 M=50 Y=0 K=0) to create a mid-blue. This two plate colour is easier for the printer to register than three- or four-plate colours, and we can still mix some interesting colours. However, you can see down the right side of this example, at small font sizes, misregistration will remain an issue.

One Plate Colour (on the right)

The simplest solution is to specify a oneplate colour. In the example on the right, our text is coloured 100% Cyan (C=100 M=0 Y=0 K=0). As there is only one colour separation, misregistration cannot occur. However, it is limiting as this obviously restricts you to Yellow, Magenta and Cyan—or tints thereof.

You’ll note however, that even at a small size the text is crisp.

Font Choice

The choice of font and weight are also important factors to consider when using coloured body text.

Font Style (left)

In the previous colour plate examples, we used the classic serif font Times New Roman. The fine widths of the strokes make serif fonts more susceptible to problems as a result of slight misregistration. Using a sans-serif font, such as Helvetica Neue as used below, gives a much better result. The stroke widths are consistently thicker, there are no serifs, and it has a larger printable surface area. If your body text is going to be reasonably small, it will help even further if the font you use has a high x-height.

Font Weight (right)

For the same reasons as choosing a serif over a sans-serif font, choosing a heavier weight over a lighter weight is also preferable. The example on the right is a regular weight —versus the example on the left which uses a light weight.
A medium weight would yield a better result again.

Coloured Text Font


Trapping & Base Colour

Trapping (left)

If you are using coloured body text that sits on top of a background colour (including Black) as per the example below, you  should add trapping to avoid white keylines showing around the edges of your body text. (left column). By adding a small stroke set to overprint around the coloured body text, you achieve a cleaner result (right column).

Common Base Colour (right)

Better still is to use a colour in your body text that shares one or more of the plate colours used in the background colour. This common base colour cannot misregister against itself. This greatly reduces potential problems caused by misregistration.

On the right, we have mixed a red (C=0 M=100 Y=100 K=0), which is sitting on top of the background colour (C=0 M=0 Y=100 K=30). The common colour is the Yellow. In this example, the 100% Magenta used in the body text red will overprint the yellow and knock out of the 30% Black in the background colour.

When we compare this to the colour used on the left (C=100 M=50 Y=0 K=0), it requires both the Cyan and Magenta to completely knock out of the background colour, which creates the potential for a white knock-out halo to occur. This cannot happen in the example on the right as the Yellow is constant in both the body text and background colour—there is no white knock-out.

Coloured Text Trapping

Paper Stock

Paper stock is also an important consideration. Printed ink on uncoated paper stock spreads more than on coated stock. This will make coloured body text appear softer when printed on an uncoated paper stock. A two-, three- or four-plate colour could be very soft and fuzzy. This is less of an issue when using coated stocks. If in doubt, talk to your paper consultant or printer about paper stock and how it will handle coloured body text.

This article was originally published in GSM12. To read this and other great articles purchase this issue here.