Understanding Color Printing: Color on Paper vs. Color on Foil

IMPAK is known for our ability to advise customers on packaging highly sensitive medical products, but our ability to deliver complex color solutions is something our customer MPL Inc.* recently discovered (after some challenges). Read how IMPAK’s print specialists solved one company’s color conundrum.

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*We refer to them as MPL, for “Medical Products Leader,” instead of their company name because of our commitment to their privacy and the terms of our NDA.

Color Challenges in Packaging

MPL Inc. had the challenge of selecting a package with strong barrier properties that would protect their highly-sensitive medical product, but they had an additional requirement: the package needed to be a very specific color to match their “brand identity.” At IMPAK we understand that color is branding; for example, UPS went so far as to trademark “Brown.” We’re not sure how that works or if we owe them in royalties for our use of “brown,” but we do understand that a color can be deeply important to a brand’s visual identity.

The problem started when our customer insisted we use a CMYK mixture that they had been using for print applications. This was a red flag. We informed them that there are several factors to be aware of in color printed packaging. Color on foil will appear different than on a WHITE paper base. And the complexities don’t stop there; the matte finish laminate they requested would also affect the resulting color.

The Value of an ESR

We suggested that MPL Inc. select a Pantone Matching System (PMS) color and invest in an Engineering Service Request (ESR), so that we could have our technicians adjust the color based on an agreed upon, standardized color (Pantone colors are more reliable than CMYK mixtures). Despite the warnings, they insisted on their CMYK mixture. We produced the order to their exact specifications. Unfortunately, the result did not match their desired color and would not match all of their other branding materials. The challenging technical specifications had been met, but without the ESR to adjust for the complexities of printing on film, the “right” color was wrong.

The “Right” Color is Found

MPL learned the hard way that color on foil appears different than on paper. At this point they realized we had suggested an ESR solely for their benefit; it would have saved them time and money. Because they are professionals, they understood that we fulfilled their order to their exact specifications so they paid for it in full. But they also placed a new order, this time with an ESR to get the exact color. We offered a discount and produced a trial order of 200 bags in their newly selected Pantone color. This time, the color was “right,” and MPL Inc. placed an order for an additional 75,000 bags.

In the end we delivered a product that met all of the advanced standards for medical packaging that we’re known for, and in the exact color of our customer’s branding identity thanks to a Pantone color selection and an Engineering Service Request. 

Figure 1Figure 2


Figure 1: The customer’s requested CMYK color (C:0 M:7 Y:15 K:30) color looked gray, similar to Pantone 401. After seeing the requested color printed on foil they were unsatisfied and decided to start the ESR process to have IMPAK find the exact color they were looking for.

Figure 2: After MPL Inc. decided on an ESR, IMPAK offered several Pantone colors and MPL Inc. decided on a brown that closely matches Pantone 2316 C. IMPAK produced a run of 200 bags in this color. MPL Inc. was very happy with the test run and placed an order for 75,000 more bags.

The Steps of MPL Inc.’s ESR Process

  1. IMPAK requested that MPL select a PMS color, and offered 3 suggested color options.
  2. IMPAK provided printed film proofs of the 3 color options so MPL could see how they looked on film (unlike MPL’s initial order where they did not review printed options beforehand).
  3. MPL reviewed the film proofs and decided that the PMS 2316 C sample matched their desired color. 
  4. After approval of the film proof, IMPAK provided another proof with the laminated film added, which MPL also approved.
  5. IMPAK then produced a trial run of 200 pouches printed with PMS 2316 C.
  6. MPL approved the 200 pouches, and approved an order of 75,000 more pouches to complete their order.

Contact IMPAK with your custom color packaging needs.