The art of five-colour digital printing

The art of five-colour digital printing

6 March 2019 |
Posted in Illustration | Photography | Print

“The format, media, typography and images work in harmony to create a visually powerful and tactile experience”

Our latest work for digital print specialist, Ricoh, showcases the endless creative possibilities that designers can achieve when using five-colour digital printing.

Within a set of four books, we demonstrate different techniques achievable when using White, Neon, Clear, or Foil, as a fifth colour, and the possibilities when printing on some more challenging creative papers.

The project was led by Silk Pearce creative head, Rob Steer, with the task of getting designers and printers excited about the potential of five-colour digital printing, while promoting Ricoh’s new five-colour Pro C7200x series.

Set of four printed brochures with black covers

The books are designed to inspire designers to try new techniques, while giving printers an imaginative sales tool to show the possibilities.

“We want designers to see the book and think ‘I could use this technique on a book cover’, or ‘I’m going to add some neon to that invitation’,” says Rob.

The concept was to create something much more exciting than the usual print demonstrators’ brochure. Instead of using standard stock imagery we invited celebrated photographers and illustrators to take part. Brad Wilson, Steve Hoskins and Andre Elliott, are among the photographers selected, with a collection of CIA and Handsome Frank illustrators, and type designer Jessica Hische. We also collaborated with letterpress design studio Typoretum.

With the completed set of books containing 48 images, sourcing the images certainly added to the complexity of the project, “They needed to convey the mix of different techniques attainable when using a fifth colour, but doing so in an exciting and inspiring way,” says Rob.

To create distinction between the four books, each one was themed around the fifth colour being featured, with the idea to make the images a reflection of the subject.

“If you flick through the Neon book and you'll find images of a periodic table of neon gases, the Northern Lights and an illustration of bright pink flamingos”, says Rob. “There's also photography using neon lighting and a portrait of William Ramsay, one of the co-founders of neon.”

Periodic table design printed in fluorescent ink

And if you turn the cover of each book and you’ll be greeted with a special character ‘C’, ‘F’, ‘N’ or ‘W’, that represents Clear, Foil, Neon or White. Each of these characters has been designed and licensed by American type designer, Jessica Hische, to work with the colours and themes used within each individual book.

Decorative capital letter N printed in yellow and magenta fluorescent ink

Apart from the time consuming element of sourcing the images, there's no doubt about the level of print knowledge that was needed to pull the whole project together, coupled with the challenge of working with different papers.

While Rob knew the easy option of using coated white paper would guarantee excellent printing results, the project was about more than this, “We wanted to challenge the norm and push the boundaries of digital printing to create beautiful work,” he says.

Digital phrase in foiled pattern design

Papers from Favini, GF Smith and Arjo Wiggins were used to illustrate what print techniques can be achieved when using creative papers with more complex surfaces.

When it came to preparing the pages for print, it was about knowing how to set the images up in terms of separations, to give the best possible end result. This involved deciding what to print first and last, including overlays and knockouts.

“When taking white as the fifth colour, it would be choosing whether to place it down first and print over it, or to place it down last, and how to use it with neon, or clear for example,” explains Rob.

For those creatives with more limited print knowledge, the four books are accompanied by a guide that gives detailed instructions on how to set up files for a fifth colour.

Since the launch, Ricoh has seen positive reactions about the books, “The format and design aesthetics seem to be resonating with creatives and printers alike”, says John Blyth, marketing and communications manager, at Ricoh Europe, “and they're surprising and inspiring them with the wide spectrum of opportunities and possibilities.”

John is also pleased with the overall effect of the books when viewed as a set, “The format, media, typography and images work in harmony to create a visually powerful and tactile experience”, he adds.

From Rob’s perspective it’s been a enjoyable design project to work on, “We've been able to experiment with the endless creative possibilities that the five-colour printing process allows", he says, "and we hope other designers and printers will be able to encapsulate the creative spirit of the books too.”

Photo of white artic fox printed in white toner on black