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Most digital design involves the four ink colors cyan, magenta, yellow, and black abbreviated CMYK. Nowhere else is the insignia “K” used for black. The story behind this moniker is the printing industry used a “key plate” to sync in the colors for a printing project. Text and image borders in most cases are printed black.

The key plate prints the color that all other colors are keyed into which is usually black in printing. Typically in printing the borders and text are done first in black and then images. Putting that into position first makes it easier to position all other colors. So the “K” does not directly stand for black, but for “key”, and since black is chosen as the key the most the two became associated in printing.

Follow the Dotted Lines

An image is captured first by a device before printing. Cameras, scanners, and computers are, but a few of the devices that captures images. What is seen on the printed page is an illusion of an image. To get an image on paper the image is turned into dots either by pixels one sees on a computer monitor or by ink dots sprayed upon paper.

Layers and Layers of Color

When looking at any image in one particular spot many times one is seeing several dots in succession on top of each other to create that particular shade of color. It takes more than this to create a beautiful image on paper. To create the illusion of an image artists discovered that certain colors placed at certain angles make the best images. Human brains are set up to pay more attention to horizontal lines (0 degrees) and vertical lines (90 degrees).

So in the four color system magenta is placed at 75 degrees, black is placed at 45 degrees, cyan is placed at 15 degrees, and yellow at 0 degrees. The strongest visible colors are placed on the least noticeable degree line while the weakest visible colors are placed on the strongly noticed degree lines. This makes balance in the image and allows the brain to fill in the dots creating the illusion of a full image.

Color Management

Color management is taking the data of an image, interpreting the colors in the image, applying a process, and reproducing an approximation of the image chosen on a page. The input and devices used to do the process matter since each has their ranges and interpretation of the data of color. Two different devices printing the same image will have slight variations.

Binding

CMYK processes have two ways in color rendering (printing images) known as early binding and late binding. Early binding process makes an intermediate reproduction based on a certain output device. The intermediate image is like a proof or print seen in photography. In this step color adjustments are discussed and the intermediate image is often in standard CMYK color.

Late binding process makes multiple files of the same image in different forms since the output devices are not assumed. The final image is a result of the device used. So there is no intermediate image to view to make adjustments to color. The only choice is redoing the image until the colors become acceptable for use.

Both bindings are useful on several levels. Either process with expertise will give a close approximation to the original of an image. Either process will let an artist or graphic designer experiment with image color to create interesting images for social statements or for beauty’s sake. Playing with color is healthy, a viable career option, and makes money whether bound or unbound.

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Posted by Ken McDonald

Ken McDonald is a photography enthusiast who loves everything about digital cameras. In his spare time he reviews digital slr cameras and blogs about photography.

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