One of our customers uses a very striking geometric motif on the front of a series of their brochures. It prints in two special colours – a pantone grey (PMS 423) and Reflex Blue (which is probably the strongest spot colour blue) and is then laminated and spot UV varnished; it looks terrific. Sitting at my desk watching sheets for these jobs being printed recently set me musing about colour and about blue in particular.
*Pushes glasses back up nose, checks Wikipedia* In many cultures and at different times the colour blue has had great significance, although since it is actually quite a difficult colour for which to manufacture pigment it didn’t feature in the earliest decorative or artistic schemes, such as cave paintings. But when it was discovered that the colour blue could be made – from minerals or vegetable dyes – it quickly assumed a connection with divinity and beauty, probably through natural association with the sky. This use and these associations grew throughout most of the early civilisations, although the colour fell out of favour temporarily during the early middle ages when the widespread use of woad as a poor-quality clothing dye led the Church and nobility to favour reds and purples over blues in their costumes and decoration.
When the Abbe Suger introduced cobalt blue into stained glass windows in the Saint Denis Basilica in the early 12th century, creating what is often described as the first truly gothic building, the church became one of the sensations of the age and the colour reinforced its associations with virtue and holiness. Ultramarine – made at great expense from lapis lazuli – came to be specified as the colour for the robes of the Virgin Mary in the work of early renaissance masters such as Duccio, or in the Wilton Diptych. It has continued to signify a kind of spiritual intensity and more recently has also figured prominently in the works of modern artists such as Barnett Newman, or Yves Klein – who created and named his own ultramarine variant, ‘International Klein Blue’.
In terms of printing, blue is one of the colours that is most difficult to represent accurately out of the CMYK colour gamut. (Others are orange, and metallic colours such as gold or silver.) It is only possible to approach the purity and intensity of certain blues by using special inks (such as reflex blue above). Process colour equivalents, usually a combination of cyan and magenta, tend to make the colour appear muddy by comparison. However, on screen, blue is one of the primary colours (in the rgb colour model for transmitted light) which means it is easier to achieve the luminosity of ‘pure blue’ through screens than it is using any printing techniques.
When I realised I was pondering the influence of climate on the colour on national football jerseys – the French and Italians, for example, wear blue (skies) but the English and German shirts are overcast – sorry, white – I thought it was probably about time I got back to work.