Undo #336 “colors are wrong”

Sometimes in your career things will happen as a result of your best intentions that will bite you in the ass.
I didn’t even think about this happening…

The situation: I was commissioned for a few t-shirt designs from a client. Good communication, no issues with revisions or contracts, everything went smooth. Then I received a phone call. Something like this:

Client: The colors are all wrong. We just ran 5,000 of these shirts using the Pantone colors you specified in your art and it looks nothing like it is supposed to. We can’t sell these.

Now maybe they could have sold the shirts and maybe they did, but there was no getting around the argument that the colors were wrong. I knew they were, and after looking back at it, I should have known they would be wrong. If you are not sure what Pantone colors are then take a break and google it so you can get up to speed. My background started in screen-printing and almost all of the vector art I printed used Pantone colors. This makes the colors consistent if and when the shirts are reprinted. But there is something you should know about Pantone colors: Pantone colors are specific colors, each having a specific name, and there are hundreds of them.

What’s the big deal then? The big deal is this, to send the client accurate Pantone colors, I would need to calibrate my monitor to display true Pantone colors, it wasn’t. Even then for the client to see the exact colors on their monitor, they would have to calibrate their monitor, and it wasn’t. Furthermore, when the client prints out the design on paper, unless the printer prints true Pantone colors… you get the point. The only consistency that could have occurred was that the colors I chose from my Pantone book matched what was printed. The problem with that is, the client wasn’t looking at a Pantone book, and they were relying on me to give them the colors. They assumed what they were seeing on their monitor to be the exact colors I specified… and they weren’t.

After working with the client the situation was resolved and I did not lose their business. I was honest with them and took full responsibility for the mistake. Being up front and honest is crucial in business, if you screwed up, admit to it. It’s always harder to blame someone when they said they did it. I do realize that It could have been possible for the printer to pass the blame onto me. Maybe they didn’t mix ink correctly… who knows. But if I had never put those Pantone colors into the file, it probably wouldn’t have happened in the first place. Since then, there has been a clause in my contract stating that if I happen to “suggest” Pantone colors for a design that they are only suggestions and that I will not be accountable for the end results. It hasn’t been an issues since.

So when presenting artwork to a client you have a choice to include Pantone color specifics or let the client handle the colors with the printer. Either way, make sure your client fully understands how you are stating the colors, specific or suggested. As always, CYA.

*Note: I know this scenario isn’t going be relative with all projects. So to be specific, this was a 3-color t-shirt design that was separated from Illustrator using spot colors.

Links you should check out:

Pantone
Smashing Magazine:
Preparing Artwork for Screen Printing in Adobe Illustrator

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What are your thoughts?