Advertising: Color And Color Printing

OF THE value of color in advertising there is no doubt. Not many years ago an advertisement in color in a periodical was unusual. Now it is very common, despite the greatly increased cost. In the better kinds of direct advertising the use of color may be described as universal. The advantages claimed for color are obvious and are easily defended. First of all comes increased attention value. Nothing catches the eye like a bit of pleasing color. Most objects in nature and art contain color, so their color representations are far more natural and realistic. Fancy a nursery catalogue portraying its roses and apples in black and white. Then comes the resistless appeal of beauty. The colors of the painting in a great gallery constitute a far larger part of their charm to most visitors than any subtle technique of the masters.

There is, however, no element of advertising values harder to reckon with any accuracy than the increase in selling power obtained by color in advertising. All recognize that it exists, and that is sufficient to justify the additional cost; but it would be difficult to conduct any series of tests that would afford an accurate measure of this advantage. Before me is a letter written by Thomas F. Logan, Inc., of New York, in answer to an inquiry as to the relative pulling power of color and black-and-white advertising. They say that they wrote to fifty of the larger users of color advertising in America, asking them whether they could trace an appreciable increase in returns after changing from black-and-white to color. Without exception, they reported that they regarded the use of color as a sound investment, but not one would venture to quote any figures. The fact that they are all continuing its use is sufficient evidence of their faith.

Brothers Company, of Buffalo, in sending out sales letters advertising house dresses for women. Five colors of envelopes and letter-heads were used—white, corn, green, gold and pink, and a total of one thousand letters was sent in each color. The percentage of responses ranged from eighteen for the white to forty-eight for the pink, but the white letters brought responses for a longer period of time than the pink. The fact that the letters all went to women no doubt emphasized the favorable response to color appeal. To many of the recipients the pink envelopes exercised a sort of social appeal, and the response was actuated largely by the same instinct that leads many girls to buy pink stationery instead of white. The test was, of course, not conclusive, but it may be taken as just another of the innumerable straws that show the way the winds of advertising blow.

The well-known authority on color, Mr. M. Luckeish, in his book “Light and Color in Advertising,” analyzes the appeal of color into several characteristics, such as vividness, appropriateness, attractiveness, realism, usefulness, novelty, distinctiveness, innate appeal, and symbolism. His comments are illuminating. The color appeal is universal and inherent in life. Without color life would be a drab and monotonous thing. Its psychic effect is unquestioned. Some colors are depressing and some are stimulating. The visual appeal of advertising may be largely increased by its intelligent use. But color must be used with intelligence. It is futile to command a person’s attention with a bright color if the final effect of that impression is painful and repulsive. Color must be used with a sense of propriety and good taste. Brilliant and contrasting colors may be quite the thing on a roadside poster, but altogether out of place in an advertisement of a serious and dignified nature. Realism is certainly one of the prime benefits of color printing. The writer recalls a color picture of a jar of bright-colored hard candy that he saw some years ago. It looked quite as genuine as the original jar itself. The attractiveness of color may be due to harmonies, contrasts, vividness, novelty, or a number of other factors. The usefulness of color is apparent when considered in connection with that large body of merchandise in which color is an essential factor. Without it, how would the manufacturer of paints and dyes or of colored fabrics present his wares? Distinctiveness is a valuable attribute of color to the advertiser. To associate one color with his product is to gain for the manufacturer a real advantage. Here in Ohio we have a great chain of grocery stores whose fronts are always painted a brilliant red. They can be identified from afar by the wayfarer. Packages having a characteristic color stand out on the merchant’s shelves. In a very large number of labels and trade-marks color is an indispensable factor. The symbolic value of color may be illustrated simply by the association of red with fire and alarm, and of purple with royalty.

The pure colors are those found in the solar spectrum, while any admixture of white gives a tint, and any admixture of black produces a shade.

Mr. Luckeish goes at some length into the question of color preference, and reports the result of a number of interesting studies. One investigation, involving 115 male college students and 120 girl students, indicated that pure colors were favored as against either tints or shades by a ratio of nearly six to four, and, in general, violet, blue, red and purple were more favored than green, yellow and orange. Almost all tests indicate that blue is the favorite color of men, and red of women. The experiment with the same college group referred to indicates this order of preference:


i Blue Red

2 Red Blue

3 Violet Violet (tint)

4 Green Violet

5 Blue (tint) Violet (shade)

6 Orange Blue (tint)

7 Blue (shade) Blue (shade)

8 Violet (shade) Green

9 Red (tint) Orange

10 Red (shade)

11 Violet (tint)

12 Yellow Yellow (tint)

13 Green (shade) Green (tint)

14 Orange (shade) Yellow

15 Green (tint) Orange (tint)

16 Yellow (tint) Red (tint)

17 Orange (tint) Orange (shade)

18 Yellow (shade) Yellow (shade)

The above preferences refer to choices of color when alone, and may be a fairly reliable guide when color is to be used merely for its own value and without any reference to the aesthetic value of combinations. If a man wants merely a spot or ornament or border to attract attention he may well use a pure color, and the order of preference indicated in the table has meaning. But when the question of an harmonious and tasteful combination arises, the tints and shades may be preferred, even though not the favorites when alone.

A test for attention value or noticeability given in the same work shows the following result in percentages:


Red 20 32

Black 34 12

Green 19 19

Orange 19 II

Blue 5 II

Purple 2 8

Yellow 1 7

Red, when used sparingly, has, of course, the highest attention value of all colors, and it is, therefore, always used for danger signals. Color advertisers in magazines use about four times as much red as any other color—brown, orange, green, yellow and purple following in order, but far behind, purple standing at five per cent as against seventy-seven per cent for red. Many recognized authorities on color are of the opinion that red is in danger of being over-done and may lose to a considerable degree its value in advertising.

The number of color tones that may be found is inexhaustible, for, in addition to the primary colors and the various shades and tints, an endless succession of hues may be secured by adding a little of one color to another. Black, as all know, results from the absorption of all colors, and white may be said to result from the repulsion of all colors. The so-called neutral tones, such as gray, are widely used in direct advertising because they give a pleasant variation from white and can be treated in almost any color.

The strong, pure colors, having the highest attention value, must be used sparingly and not in too large masses, lest they be-come tiring and repellent to the eye. The use of tint blocks, pro- viding a softer and more delicate background on which the picture stands out strongly, is a common and well-advised practice. The same general tone should prevail in both picture and tinted background.

The symbolic or suggestive character of color is a natural development and must be accepted as sound empirical knowledge. We have referred to red as suggestive of heat, passion, alarm. Blue, on the contrary, is cool and soothing. Yellow and orange are warm, luminous and gay. Purple is associated with pomp and formality, and green brings to the mind the thought of spring. A neutral gray is very quieting, as instance its use for the decoration of count-less sleeping chambers. In general, blue, violet and green are regarded as cold colors, and red, yellow and orange as warm. Contrasts are well secured, as a rule, by the juxtaposition of cold and warm colors.

The artistic effect of printing is enhanced by the practice of carrying one color tone through the entire scheme. The use of brown inks on brown or India stocks, of blue ink on a light-blue stock, or of gray ink on gray stock is very effective and is a practice much in vogue in finer work. The ink should always be of a considerably darker tone than the background. What is lost in contrast is often more than regained in the pleasing effect obtained. Some of the color combinations recommended in Commercial En-graving and Printing follow:


Black Dark red, gold and white, light blue and silver.

Light Blue Purple, dark blue, light yellow and yellow-brown.

Dark Blue Light blue and white, green and yellow-red, dark red and gold.

Light Brown Green, gray and lilac, dark brown and silver.

Dark Brown Yellow-red, black and white, light drab.

Light Green Gold, dark brown, yellow-red, dark green.

Dark Green Gold and white, black and light green.

Light Gray Dark blue and gold, dark gray and red.

Light Red Dark green, blue and white, olive and gold.

Dark Red Dark green, yellow-red and dark blue, white and gold.

Light Yellow Red, light blue.

White Emerald green, navy blue, crimson red.

Three-color combinations generally considered good are: red, yellow and blue; yellow-red, green and purple; green-yellow, purple and purple-blue.

The process colors—yellow, red and blue—are harmonious with one another, but effects may be enhanced by careful tone combinations. A bit of vermilion adds greatly to the effect of the black page. For backgrounds the colder colors are preferable, and if a bright yellow background should be used through any compelling circumstance, it is almost imperative to print nothing but black. Deep reds should not be used with light blues.

Yellow and purple-blue, three-color blue, chrome-yellow, light red and blue-green are called complementary colors, because they balance one another.

With these comments on color, their application to direct advertising leads to a brief consideration of the processes by which color effects and combinations are most commonly produced by printers. Line color plates are generally used for printing in color on cover stocks and antique text papers as well as on the cheaper grades of book paper, though they are also well adapted to smooth surfaces. If a picture or design is to be printed in two or more colors, a separate printing plate is required for each color. Line color plates are the least expensive of all forms of color engravings and give effective results.

The drawing is not made in colors as they are to appear in the finished print, but is so arranged as to admit of easy separation in making the plate for the printing of each separate color. A rough color sketch may be furnished as a guide or help to the engraver. One very popular plan of preparing a drawing for color plates is to make the drawing in black India ink on white paper. A sheet of transparent paper is attached at the margin, and on this trans-parent paper are indicated the sections that are to be made for printing in each color. The principal plate, carrying the detail, is called the key plate.

The fact that all the plates are made from the same negative, the parts not wanted for any special color being etched or routed away, is an assurance of perfect register and the accurate fitting together of the various colors into the completed picture. As many colors as are desired may be used, but multicolor effects are usually got by three or, at the most, four printings. By superimposing parts of the plates, almost any variation of color may be obtained. By the addition of the Ben Day shading, a still greater variety of tone effects is readily obtainable. Yellow, red, black and blue are the basic colors from which most color effects are built up.

Tint-block backgrounds are often used with line color engravings. If solid, a sheet of zinc, cut to proper size and shape, is mounted on a wood base; but if the tint block must come to register with any part of the engraving, a transfer is made from the key plate and the outline thus secured. Those parts not wanted to print are routed away.

On colored stocks, such as Buckeye Cover, the multicolor effect may be readily and economically obtained by utilizing the color of the paper for part of the effect. This saves one printing impression and often produces results that could scarcely be obtained with ink, as the texture of the stock is preserved unmarred in that part of the picture in which the paper is used as a color.

In halftone process work the three primary colors—yellow, red and blue—are used, and from them almost any secondary color may be obtained. This principle is the one on which process color printing is based. By photographing first through a blue filter, the negative is obtained from which the yellow plate is made. A green filter produces the red plate, and a red filter the blue plate. When the halftone plates made from these negatives are printed in their respective colors in the order named and superimposed in the proper register, they will produce the color tones represented in the original picture. The four-color process is merely an amplification of the three-color method by adding a black plate. This black plate is made the key, and not only strengthens the detail of the picture, but provides various shades of gray not obtainable from the three primary colors. The finest color effects are had from four-color plates, but the printing must be competently and carefully done. Color plates are much more expensive than straight halftones, and there is usually a good deal of hand work by the engraver in properly finishing them.

The two-color halftone—sometimes called a duograph—consists of two plates, made from two separate negatives from the same copy. The angle of the screen is changed about thirty degrees in making the second negative. After proper etching to obtain the required tone value in each plate, the two plates, when printed one over the other with different colored inks, will produce an effect of continuous tone blending. This is due to the fact that the printing dots in each plate are interspersed instead of being exactly superimposed. Had the two plates been made with the screen at the same angle, the plates would have simply overprinted and a one-color effect would have resulted.

The duotype is a minor modification of two-color halftone, in which the position of the screen is not changed in the making of the two negatives, but the two plates are etched differently to pro-duce the desired color combination. As the same screen is employed for the two plates, the colors used are somewhat neutralized unless the plates are printed slightly out of register.