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Create Your Own Color Reference Library

How do you make sure you get the right color from print run to print run? For us, it’s communicating with our printer and giving them a very clear reference from our color reference library. Whether printing on-demand or with traditional methods, the more clear you can be from the start, the better the outcome will be. Everyone’s eyes perceive color a bit differently. Words can fall flat when describing color. To avoid any ambiguity about what you mean when you say, “a little more green” have a physical color reference to show your printer.

Created over the years, our color reference library is one of the most valuable tools in our studio. We refer to it constantly when doing our own colorwork, looking for inspiration. and communicating color. Bonus, it looks great on your studio shelves.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to create a useful color reference library.

Get organized!
From the start, you want to keep your color reference library super organized. You don’t want to stop working to dig through tons of books or boxes every time you need a reference. Before you get started, decide on a system. Think about how you like to work and what would be most useful to you. For us, we bought a bunch of clear cubes and labeled each with color names. Keep in mind that your library will grow quickly. Whatever system you decide on, make it bigger than you need at the beginning so there’s room to grow.

Start collecting.
Take a trip to your local hardware or paint store and gather paint chips. Get into the habit of gathering color chips any time you see one you like. Each year the big paint companies Sherwin-Williams and Behr put out their new color palettes. Stop into their stores and pick up a couple of their books.

Buy books.
Pantone books can be expensive, but you can often find used ones for sale. Keep an eye out at used bookstores or on Ebay and Etsy for color sample books. While it’s important to be aware of current color trends, it’s also inspiring to look through older and even vintage color swatch books. This is especially true if you need a unique color or inspiration for an unusual color combination.

Get out the paints.
I try to avoid mixing my own color swatches because it can be difficult to get a flat, solid color. Still, it can be helpful as a last resort to get exactly what you want. If mixing your own, be sure to make the swatch as flat as possible. I’ve achieve the best results using gouache or acrylic paints.

Don’t forget to include some fabric swatches.

Include fabrics.
In general, if you’ll be printing, you want to give solid paint chips. However, if you are ever matching a dyed fabric, it can be helpful to use a fabric swatch for reference instead of a paint chip. Fabrics may look flat, but they are three-dimensional structures and absorb and reflect light differently than a flat print. To take that into account, it can be helpful to compare fabric to fabric.

Our color reference library’s primary purpose is to provide a physical swatch to a printer for color matching. Yet, over time, it’s proven to be an excellent source of color inspiration when we’re working and coming up with color palettes. On our studio shelves, it also adds a pop of color to our decor. What tips have you learned to help communicate with printers?

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Kristin Crane

Kristin Crane has designed jacquard designs for the home furnishing and residential jobber market for many years, with mills in the US and in China. Today, she writes about pattern and design trends for Design Pool from her home in Providence, Rhode Island. When not writing about fabric, she can be found weaving in her home studio or hiking along the Rhode Island coast.


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