By Volker Hildering, Manager Sales and Customer Service Packaging – Special Applications, and Anna Zumbülte, Innovation Manager, Saueressig GmbH + Co. KG
Most people take color printing for granted. The limited gamut of colors available in the CMYK color model may seem to mimic all the possibilities of the real world—but that’s only because we’re so accustomed to seeing images reproduced in CMYK. In truth, there are so many more ways of seeing that have remained impossible to explore throughout the history of printing.
What if you could give shoppers a whole new way to see your brand? What if you could stop them in their tracks, thinking “That’s remarkable—I’ve never seen anything like it before”?
That’s the impact of RGB printing, the first completely new innovation in color printing technology in more than 100 years. Before, if you asked a supplier to print in RGB, you’d get a laugh and a lecture about why your request made no sense. Now, you can get a world of new visual effects that have never previously existed.
Substrates of the deepest black. A much broader color space. More vivid saturation. A surface sheen unlike anything you’ve ever seen. How is it possible? Let’s take a closer look.
CMYK and RGB: Looking Back
CMYK printing was first used in 1906,1 when the Eagle Printing Ink Company demonstrated that the colors cyan, magenta, yellow and black (key) could be layered over a white substrate to produce a practically unlimited range of colors.
The RGB color model is even older, although it only came into prominence with the rise of color TV. In 1861, James Clerk Maxwell experimented with taking photographs of the same scene through red, green and blue filters. Projecting the images through the same filters in a darkened room, these primary colors combined to reproduce the scene in full color.2
CMYK inks on a white background, or RGB lights on a dark screen: For well over 100 years, these have been the two principal ways to create full-color images. Both models are so ubiquitous—CMYK for print; RGB for screens—that most people hardly even think about the different ways they engage the eye.
RGB Printing: Seeing Things Differently
The idea for a new kind of vision grew from a 2014 brainstorming session between creative people and the Performance Materials unit of the Merck KGaA Darmstadt (the centuries-old German multinational chemical and pharmaceutical company). Their idea turned the standard color models upside down: Instead of illuminated pixels on a black screen, what if RGB inks were used to print on black paper?
That thought led to many months of testing and refinement. Now, Merck KGaA has created the first major color innovation in over a century: A process for RGB printing with international patent pending.
This new method uses highly reflective pearlescent red, blue and green inks, plus a silver-white ink. In CMYK printing, the black “K” ink provides a definitive black that the mixture of cyan, magenta and yellow can’t quite achieve. Similarly, the silver-white ink in RGB printing is used to provide the white “pop” that the combination RGB inks can’t quite achieve.
The effect is uncanny. The image seems to shimmer. It emerges from the black background as an ethereal possibility, not a prosaic reality.
RGB printing is done directly on a black substrate, as opposed to CMYK where a black background is achieved by printing all four colors at full saturation. So, for example, you can present your brand artwork directly on a black box or label for a deep, dramatic look that you couldn’t achieve using CMYK.
The pearlescent pigments create otherworldly images that seem to radiate a shimmer or glow from within. And the RGB technique offers a larger, more diverse color space than CMYK, giving designers a greater range of hues and saturations for the freedom to explore entirely new possibilities.
Luxury brands, fine wines and whiskies, cigars and other indulgences are natural candidates for the distinctive and sophisticated effects that can be achieved with RGB printing. Graphic designers will likely discover creative uses for this new method across many other product categories.
What We’ve Learned: Visualizing the Possibilities
Merck developed its RGB process using its proprietary pigments, applied by screen printing. When they were ready to move from concept to full production, Merck came to Saueressig for expertise in rotogravure printing—the ideal system for transferring pigments in the volume required for the RGB technique.
Our team has spent endless hours refining the technique and working with clients to bring their RGB printing projects to market. What we’ve learned is that clients want help visualizing how the process works and what they need to do to be successful with it. Here are a few key points to keep in view:
- The cost for rotogravure cylinders is not more for RGB than for CMYK. That part of the process is the same; only the inks used differ.
- The cost of inks may be marginally higher for RGB due to the special pigments required and the volume of ink applied during printing. This small difference is well worth it for clients who want the special effects that can only be achieved with RGB.
- Color correction requires special expertise. You can’t proof your design on a CMYK printer and expect the results to match in production. This is where working with an RGB specialist with the necessary expertise and tools can make all the difference in the success of the final product.
- An RGB-printed package or label, when photographed and reproduced in CMYK, will lose some of the vibrancy and sheen that makes RGB so special. That includes the images displayed with this article, and it’s due to the inherently restricted color space of CMYK compared to RGB. Again, this is an area where specialized expertise can help optimize the results—but you really need to see the RGB original to get the full effect.
At Saueressig, we’re delighted to be part of the first major innovation in printing to be developed in many generations. It’s still relatively new, and we expect to see further developments and refinements in the years to come. RGB will always be an additional option, never an alternative to CMYK, and will likely always be the choice of a few, select brands. But when you first encounter it on the shelf, you’ll know right away that you’ve found something special. So keep your eyes open while you shop.
Saueressig is a renowned expert in premium rotogravure and special machinery solutions. The company supports customers along the entire prepress process and improves profitability by applying innovative solutions to the complex challenges faced by brand owners, printers and converters in the reproduction of brand assets. Saueressig owns more than 150 patents and has more than 60 years of experience. The internationally expanding company serves customers from ten production sites worldwide. Saueressig is part of the brand deployment group of SGK. SGK is a division of Matthews International Corporation (NASDAQ GSM: MATW). For more information visit: http://www.saueressig.com
A recognized expert of the printing industry, Volker Hildering, Manager Sales and Customer Service Packaging – Special Applications, with Saueressig, has been deploying security and microprint technologies as anti-counterfeiting solutions for 16 years. Having completed his commercial education at Saueressig and complemented by a Media Business Administrator degree, he assisted in building the Security department, which he has led since 2008. Saueressig is part of SGK, a Division of Matthews International Corporation. http://saueressig.com
Having graduated from the University of Muenster in 2015 with a PhD in physics, Dr. Anna Zumbülte joined Saueressig as the Innovation Manager. In her role she drives innovations both in collaboration with customers and industry partners as well as internal developments to enhance the possibilities of printing and embossing. Saueressig is part of SGK, a Division of Matthews International Corporation. http://saueressig.com
- “The History of the CMYK Color Model,” Club Ink Blog, September 12, 2014. http://www.clubink.ca/blog/print/history-behind-cmyk-colour-model
- Robert Hirsch, “Exploring Colour Photography: A Complete Guide,” London: Laurence King Publishing, 2004