Color Matching Guide for Print-on-Demand Products

Valerie Alcantar

8 mins read

, Color Matching Guide for Print-on-Demand Products, Awkward Styles Blog

As the owner of your print-on-demand powered online store, one of the most challenging yet exciting parts of the business is crafting the perfect design for your products. But what exactly makes a design great?

Whether your art is known for its intricate details or the subtlety of its elements, the key to making a stunning product lies in choosing the right colors—from the designing and proofing stages all the way to final printing. And in this article, we’ll show you everything you need to know about color matching for print-on-demand products so you can get started on creating beautiful, one-of-a-kind designs for your store in no time!

Let’s dive right in!

What Exactly is Color Matching?

Color matching is the process of reproducing the colors of your design as accurately as possible on your final product. This includes everything from choosing the right color palette for your design to adjusting the colors during the printing process to ensure an accurate representation of your original design.

This is usually done through design tools or software like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, where you can create and edit your design with the color profiles of different devices in mind. This way, you can be sure that the colors you see on your screen will be the same as the ones that will be printed on your product.

Why is it Important, Anyway?

Alright, but why can’t I just pick any color I want and be done with it?

While you can technically use any color you want for your design, choosing the right colors is important if you want your final product to look its best. This is because each color has a different set of characteristics, such as lightness, saturation, and hue, that can affect the overall look and feel of your design.

For example, using a light color like white can make your design look airy and delicate, while using a dark color like black can give it a more serious and formal tone. Meanwhile, using a bright color like red can make your design stand out and be more eye-catching, while using a muted color like brown can make it look more grounded and natural.

Furthermore, when it comes to print-on-demand products, your chosen color model will also dictate how your design will look when it’s printed on different materials. We’ll discuss more about this later on, but suffice it to say that not all colors look the same on every surface!

Getting to Know the Basics

Now, let’s cut to the chase and get down to the basics of color matching for print-on-demand products. Here are some terms and concepts you have to familiarize yourself with to get started:


RGB and CMYK are color models that are used to create and print color images. RGB, which stands for red green blue, is a color model that is used mostly for digital designs such as those you see on your computer screen or mobile device. This is because RGB colors are made by combining different intensities of red, green, and blue light.

On the other hand, CMYK, which stands for cyan magenta yellow black, is a color model that is used mostly for print designs. Unlike RGB, CMYK inks work in a subtractive manner, which means that they absorb or reflect light instead of emitting it.

This is why CMYK colors usually look darker on your screen than they do when printed on paper—because the inks used for printing are designed to reflect less light than the pixels on your screen.

Your Color Space

Your color space is the set of all colors that can be accurately represented by your design software or devices. For example, the color space for RGB is usually wider than the color space for CMYK, which means that RGB can represent a wider range of colors than CMYK.

Color Codes

Ever noticed those strange strings of letters and numbers when you’re picking colors for your design? Those are color codes, and they indicate the exact values of a particular color in a certain color space.

For example, the color code for the RGB color red is “ff0000,” while the color code for the CMYK color black is “0,0,0,100.”

Color Profile

A color profile is a set of data that describes how colors should be displayed on a particular device or medium. Color profiles are usually created by manufacturers, and they help ensure that the colors you see on your screen are the same as the ones that will be printed on your product.

Color Gamut

A color gamut is the range of colors that can be accurately represented by a particular color space or device. The quantity of colors displayed on your screen is determined by your device’s color gamut, while the number of colors that can be printed on your product is determined by your chosen printing process’s color gamut.

The Color Wheel

When matching colors, one of the most useful tools you can use is the color wheel. The color wheel is a visual representation of how colors are related to each other, and it can be a helpful guide for choosing colors that go well together.

The color wheel can be divided into warm colors and cool colors. Warm colors are those that are on the red, orange, and yellow side of the wheel, while cool colors are those that are on the green, blue, and purple side. Your chosen set of colors can define the overall mood or feeling of your design, so it’s important to choose carefully!

You can also use the color wheel to find colors that are complementary to each other. Complementary colors are those that are located directly opposite each other on the color wheel, such as blue and orange or red and green.

Things that Affect Your Printed Designs

Now that we’re more familiar with the basics, let’s take a look at some of the things that can affect your printed design.

Your Chosen Color Model

Ever designed a project only to find out that the colors don’t look quite right when you print it? This is often because the color model you used for your design (RGB or CMYK) is different from the color model that will be used for printing (usually CMYK).

While most print providers and design software automatically convert RGB colors to CMYK, the conversion process is not always perfect. This is why it’s important to double-check your design before sending it to print, and make sure that the colors you see on your screen are the ones that will be printed on your product.

The Color of Your Item

Of course, you can’t expect your design to look exactly the same on every single item. The color of your product will affect how your design looks, and there are a few things you should keep in mind when choosing a color for your item.

For example, if you’re printing on a light-colored shirt, the colors in your design will appear brighter than if you were to print on a dark-colored shirt. This is because the light-colored shirt will reflect more light, while the dark-colored shirt will absorb more light.

Your Fabric Type

That’s right! One of the most overlooked factors in color matching is the type of fabric you’re printing on. Different fabrics can affect the way colors appear, and some fabrics are more absorbent than others.

At Awkward Styles, our products are tailor-made for printing, and we use a high-quality fabric that provides consistent color results. This is to ensure that the colors in your design look as close to the colors on your screen as possible.

Your Printer’s Settings

If you’re printing your products on your own, it’s important to make sure that your printer settings are correctly calibrated. This includes things like the color mode, resolution, and paper type.

Using the wrong settings can result in colors that are either too light or too dark, and it can also cause your design to print out blurry or pixelated.

Some Common Color Matching & Designing Mishaps

Ready to create your next designs? Well, not so fast!

Before you start, here are a few common mistakes that you should avoid.

Not Saving as the Right File Type

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s one of the most common mistakes that people make when designing for print. When you’re designing your project, make sure to save it as a file type that’s best suited for print (usually a PDF or EPS file).

If you’re not sure what file type to use, ask your print provider for their preferred file type.

Forgetting to Flatten Your Layers

While it’s not really a design mistake, forgetting to flatten your design before sending it to print is one of the most common causes of printing errors.

When you flatten a design, you’re essentially merging all of the design’s layers into one. This is important because it makes the printing process much simpler, and it helps to ensure that your design will print out correctly.

Relying on Your Screen for Color Accuracy

I know we’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating: your screen is not a reliable indicator of how your design will look when it’s printed.

This is because screens use a different color model than printers (RGB vs. CMYK), and the colors on your screen will look different than the colors on your printed product.

Incorrect Design Size

When you’re designing for print, it’s important to make sure that your design is the correct size. This seems like a pretty obvious mistake to avoid, but you’d be surprised how often it happens.

Remember those “Expectation Vs. Reality” memes? Well, you don’t want your design to end up like that, do you?

Printing on the Wrong Fabric Type

Like we mentioned before, different fabrics can affect the way colors appear. Two of the most popular choices for shirt printing are 100% cotton and polyester, but there are a few other options out there as well.

If you’re not sure what fabric to use, ask your print provider for their recommended fabric type.

A Few Solutions to Your Color Matching Woes

And we’re almost done! Here are some tips on how to make sure your colors turn out the way you want them to:

Create Your Own Color Swatch Book

If you want to be 100% sure that your colors will match, the best way to do it is to create your own color swatch book. You can either purchase a pre-made swatch book, or create your own with the colors you will be constantly using for your designs. This will help you speed up your design process, and it will also make sure that your colors are always consistent.

Keep Your Color Space in Mind

As we mentioned before, different color models use different color spaces. When you’re designing for print, it’s important to keep your color space in mind to make sure that your colors will print out correctly.

Get a Sample Before You Order in Bulk

One surefire way to ensure that your customers will be happy with their purchase is to order a sample before you print in bulk. This way, you can see how your design looks on the chosen product, and you can make sure that the colors are accurate.

Work with a Dependable Print Provider

Of course, one of the best ways to avoid any color matching mishaps is to work with a dependable print provider. At Awkward Styles, we take color matching seriously, and we use the latest technology to make sure that your designs always look great on every item.

Some Color Combinations that Almost ALWAYS Work

To give you a head start, here are some color combinations you can use for your next designs:

The Neutrals

Combining neutral colors like tan, cream, and taupe can give your designs a minimalist and sophisticated look. These color combinations are also great for nature-inspired designs and vintage-style prints.

The Monochromes

The subtlety of monochrome color schemes makes them perfect for designs that need to convey a message without being too loud or intrusive. You can also use these color combinations to add a touch of elegance to your designs.

Black & Mustard

This color combination is perfect for youthful and energetic designs. Because black makes the mustard color pop, it’s also a great way to make your design stand out.

Blue & White

This color combination is classic and timeless. It’s perfect for designs that need to convey a sense of stability and reliability.

Red, Blue, & White

Similar to blue & white, this color combination is perfect for designs that need to convey a sense of stability. However, the addition of red gives the design a bit more energy and excitement.

Teal, Coral, & Yellow

This color combination is perfect for designs that give off summer vibes and tropical feels. The coral color adds a touch of femininity, while the yellow brings a touch of fun and excitement.

The Rainbow

‘Cause why not?

Apart from being a representation of the Pride movement, rainbow color schemes are also great for designs that need to convey a sense of happiness and joy. These are perfect for children’s designs, party invitations, and other fun prints.

Ready, Set, Match!

And that’s it! We hope this guide has helped prepare you for your next color matching and designing adventure. For more tips on design and printing, be sure to check out our blog. And once you’re done crafting your perfect design, head on over to our free mockup generator, send us your orders, and we’ll take care of the rest!

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