ProductImage.aspxThe first edition of the Pantone Color Guide was issued in 1963. Prior to that printers were much more isolated, establishing their own standards, so that you might end up as a publisher favoring the blues at this printer over the blues at a competing press. Of course for book work, color was less common than it is today, so this wasn’t a gigantic problem.

Historically color matching has been a problem more for painters than printers, and most of the early systems focus on this area, though the charmingly namedUnknown Urine Color Scales were handy reference guides for medieval physicians. This is Colossal shows samples from an early watercolor scale made in 1692, with a link to the whole book in its French home. Color Ordered: A Survey of Color Order Systems from Antiquity to the Present by Rolf G. Kuehni & Andreas Schwarz (OUP, 2008) describes 167 systems, so we have not been idle, nor have we managed to reach agreement. I dare say the reason is that color is something that’s not “out there”— it’s simply light reflected and interpreted by the brain. We have no real way of knowing that anyone sees any particular object in exactly the same colors as their neighbor. Add to that the well-known problem that colors will be perceived differently under different lighting conditions, and the stage is set for confusion.

Pigments are chemicals which reflect light in such a way as to show particular colors. Animals have however been hard pressed to produce blue or green pigment: the color in a peacock’s tail is produced by light reflection from structural elements, not pigment only, and a green snake is using yellow pigment combined with blue structural reflectivity to mix to green. (This was covered in an NPR program yesterday, 12 November, 2014.)

Pantone announces a color of the year. I don’t think 2015’s has been revealed yet, but here’s 2014’s color. 2014Doesn’t it just shriek “today”? Hints for next year are provided by Pantone throughout the year: see this Spring 2015 fashion color palette. I rather wonder how much attention is paid to this sort of thing. I certainly cannot imagine book designers holding back on their jacket designs because Pantone hasn’t pronounced on the color of the year yet.

shirley-new_custom-c0747b7febe7805ae3f1ea6ba38d124cf692b260-s400-c85One notorious color matching problem was the calibration of Kodak film to Caucasian skin tones, which resulted in difficulty photographing darker skin. Morning Edition at NPR has a story this morning (13 November) about the Shirley cards which were used to calibrate printers around the country after the decentralization of processing in 1954. These were named after Shirley Page the Kodak model who was first featured in the calibration system.