Most of us are now working virtually, and those who have children find themselves now homeschooling as well. If you are looking for an art activity, coloring eggs might be on your list this week. It’s a favorite family activity in preparation for Easter.
A few years back, I contributed an article for Packaging Digest on how dyeing eggs can help solve design to print issues. As you sit at home with your kids, now is a perfect time to revisit this article and the lessons egg dyeing can teach us about color.
In earlier articles, I’ve written about how we should be shifting our approach to color education to help children understand how color works in a physical and digital process and digital. Dyeing eggs is an excellent and fun way to demonstrate some of the most common color issues facing the packaging designer/printer relationship.
Get our eggs and dyes out, bring the rest of the family, and let’s learn together.
Question: Why do we need black in color printing if you can create most colors using cyan, magenta and yellow?
For this experiment, you need one white hard-boiled egg and food coloring. The experiment will take 1 hour. Add an equal amount of cyan (blue), yellow, and magenta (red) drops to one of three bowls of water. First, add your egg to the Cyan and wait for 20-minutes and dry the egg. Repeat this step with both the magenta and yellow water baths, waiting 20-minutes for each.
Now describe the final color of the egg. Is it mauve, darkish brown..ish? It is, however, not black.
In printing, we use cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK). But why do we need to use black? From the experiment, one might easily assume the egg color should come out black, but in reality, the egg is not black.
Printers use Cyan, magenta, and yellow to achieve a good range of colors, a subtractive process. When printed on a white substrate, like your egg, each color absorbs light, and its subtractive counterpart reflects back. A white egg reflects all colors back to the viewer, making it appear white. The white egg absorbs red light and reflects green and blue light (Cyan) back to the viewer. (see chart)
So, how we make the egg a dark black?
We could either add more Cyan, magenta, and yellow dye, which may use most of your stains. A more straightforward way is to add a fourth color, black. Black is essential to the formulation because it reduces the amount of ink, making it less expensive, and avoids bleeding into the paper. Black also helps balance images and graphics, with a neutral density.
Question: What if my egg isn’t white?
For this experiment, you need a few different types of eggs in a variety of shades. You can include one white egg in the experiment. Place each egg in a bowl of water with red dye and wait 10-minutes. You will observe that none of the eggs are the same color.
The original color of the egg plays a significant role in determining the final color. Instead of red, each egg turns a shade of orange or brown.
This experiment highlights the importance of the base material color. You can never overlook this. When specifying colors and formulating inks, one must always consider the color of the substrate. Red dye, or ink in the case of printing, will only look red on a pure white background.
A yellow ink printed on a corrugated Amazon box will barely be seen. This is because the base color of the brown box absorbs more of the yellow, leaving less to reflect back to the viewer
Slight variations in substrate colors will affect the final result. Always evaluate the base material or specify the color and brightness when producing the design on various materials.
Question: What color is it?
Here I took a bright spring flower and visually created a dye bath that looked ‘pretty’ close. I dyed an egg and compared it to the flower. It did not match. We did this over and over again until we got it right. I
For the experiment, pick a flower or any object you want. Mix your food coloring until you have a close match and dye a white egg in the solution. Repeat until you have a match. Now give the same object to someone else and ask them to create the right color and observe how many times it takes. Observe if the color the other person created meets your expectations.
When you are visually mixing/formulating color for production, the more times it takes you to achieve an accurate match, the more it costs in time and money. What someone else may see as sky blue, will never be the same as the sky blue you observe. Our visual acuity is as unique as our fingerprints. What’s more, our mood, gender, sleep quality, age, and even food and alcohol all affect how we perceive color.
This experiment highlights the importance and value of color measurement devices. For this, you can use a small handheld device like Datacolor’s ColorReader or Pantone MatchCard or Pantone Studio App on your smartphone. We mixed a new dye bath using the data from our device. The eggs now match more closely to the original color. As a bonus, we can now create a formula for the color. Printers and manufacturers who leverage color measurement devices are able to more accurately and quickly match and formulate color in production.
Color, viewed by a person, is subjective. Inspiration comes from many places and at any time. If you see something that inspires you, and you want to recreate it, use something that can measure the color, and provide numerical data. Providing lab data will always be a better way to communicate the color, then stating a reference color number. Swatches are references.
A common pain point for designers is the constant back and forth to agree on the color. If you use numerical data and understand the base color of the material, you will reduce the number of color rounds and get your product produced faster and with fewer headaches.
There is a lot more to specifying, color, and material, but I hope this interactive exercise brought some fun and learning to your day.