The Over-Saturation Blues

Doc recently read that color studies demonstrate that men prefer more saturated colors than women, and that cheerful people prefer more saturated colors than depressed people. So most digital printers these days must be designed by cheerful men, since they tend to over-saturate colors to the point where they no longer look natural.

Doc recently read that color studies demonstrate that men prefer more saturated colors than women, and that cheerful people prefer more saturated colors than depressed people. So most digital printers these days must be designed by cheerful men, since they tend to over-saturate colors to the point where they no longer look natural.

Doc's all for cheerful, bright colors, but not to the point where faces turn bright pink, skies turn radiant blue and yellow vibrates off the page. Yet that seems to be the "normal" output for most of the digital printing devices I work with. Lately, I've been going into Photoshop to de-saturate colors in photographs just so when they get printed they'll look natural. And while I know it's possible in many print drivers to adjust the saturation levels, it's simply too hard and shouldn't have to be an option.

Do customers really like such bright, over-saturated colors? This isn't just a problem with toner-based printing devices, it's true of many inkjet printers as well. Even many digital cameras tend to pump up the saturation these days. When the world went digital, it definitely got more saturated.

Of course, Doc remembers the days when printing quality was measured in temperature-controlled light booths with 5,000K lamps and all kinds of color-control swatches. The whole point was to accurately match original colors, not pump them up so they scream "I'm in full color!"

Doc is concerned that we're lowering our standards when it comes to digital printing and that we're so happy to get it faster, we no longer care about color fidelity. But we also have to face the reality that toner-based printing tends to be higher contrast – it's one of the basic differences between toner and offset. It seems much harder to reproduce subtle tone differences and color gradations with toner particles.

So here's Doc's challenge to digital press manufacturers: find a way to turn down the saturation and make color reproduction more natural. I'd much rather have to turn saturation up as an option, than to have it be the default setting.

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