02 PRIMAL SCREEN: Why print colors are impossible to match on the web.

When a designer switches from print to web design, one of the first tools they go searching for is an ink color to hexcode conversion chart. The industry-standard is not available. The Big P Corporation does NOT provide an online web color chart, nor will they allow anyone else to publish one. Not for profit and not for free.

Can You Really Own a Color?
You can’t own a color but you can own a color NUMBER. The Big P Corporation asserts their lists of color numbers are the intellectual property of The Big P Corporation and free use of the list is not allowed. This is why The Big P Corporation colors cannot be supported in Open Source software such as GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). However, The Big P Corporation palettes supplied by printer manufacturers can be obtained freely, and do not come with usage restrictions beyond a sales ban on hard copies of the palette.

Web Color Ban
The Big P Corporation actively bans online color conversion and hunts down anyone trying any monkey business. They then threaten them legally until they remove the “offending” site or page. They will not support their own system or allow anyone else to support it. Nice guys.

How Can I Get THE Numbers in Hex?
Photoshop comes with a color picker to do “custom color” conversions. Usually I just use Photoshop 6 or a Mac OS9 Picker Plugin called “ColorSync” which was copyrighted in 1998 by The Big P Corporation, inaccurate but better than a literal poke in the eye.

Absolute Versus Relative Color
A designer soon learns it doesn’t really matter what exact numerical colors you set on your page. It’s a realm of RELATIVE color, not ABSOLUTE color. When you look at your website on different monitors, they will look different. Settings make colors washed out or brighter. There are too many variables: user setting, viewing angle, resolution, age, brand, cost, platform, CRT vs LCD, etc. Web color rendering is inconsistent. There is is no best and no perfect way to measure how colors will look on a viewers screen. You may say, “Well, use websafe colors!” Uh. It helps sometimes.

Industrial Color Failure
On a recent industrial project, I had a nice cream background in a sidebar that rendered “pastel pink” on another machine and display. Not good. I switched to a websafe approximation (yellow-butter in hex code) and it was still pinkish. I then switched to a light websafe gray. Those matched. Go figure. I went with the light gray. I wasn’t going to fight monitor-weirdness.

All Web Colors Are Approximations
Color varies from one monitor to the next. But a conversion is necessary to get colors as close as possible to their printed counterparts—like corporate colors or logo colors. None of The Big P Corporation colors are websafe anyway. You can get close sometimes but the “gamut”—or color range—is completely different because of the way colors are constructed. Plus, we’re attempting to compare RGB emissive light to printed reflective light. Because of the vast difference in monitor color rendering, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to maintain color continuity on the web. But let’s keep trying.

So the question is: if it’s impossible to render The Big P corporations color “numbers” on screen, why are they threatening law suits? What damage is done? They can’t provide accurate online color results either. Strange world?