I recently made a boo-boo. I sent a printer that usually receives documents prepared using SWOP a poster prepared using GRACOL.

The print part was managed by my client, not by me, so I could not see a proof. When I saw the final result I was devastated. Everything was very dark. The ink was cranked up to the point that mid values turned almost black. The print included photographs so they became very ugly. It was a CMYK print on coated stock but it almost looked like a B/W print on newsprint with a crazy 40% dot gain.

Now, I know I should have set the document as SWOP and not as GRACOL and that was my fault. I was wondering, though, if the difference should be so dramatic.

Is this a common result? If you print a GRACOL thinking it was SWOP, does everything look darker? Or was the print job just badly done with inks cranked up to absurd limits by the printer.

  • Do you think you could send a screenshot from very close? Do you embed a color profile with your images? You know, in prepress departments, the profiles are sometimes simply discarded. It's normal there would be a difference but not to the level you describe. I think it's safer to work in Swop and get printed with Gracol profile than the opposite. It could be a very bad printer too if he didn't notice and still went on press with that. I suspect a few factors but I'd be curious to see a sample from close. What you describe could be very bad registration too (CMYK on same/bad angle!) – go-junta Jun 15 '15 at 13:12
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    I would love to show you a photograph of the result but the part that shows the problem is the portrait of my client, who is not very happy about it being all dark and unrecognizable : ( I agree that the printer is not a good one. I am re-sending the artwork as SWOP with a lot less levels than before. Let's see if it makes a difference. – cockypup Jun 15 '15 at 13:57
  • Grrr. The only advice the printer has is "save everything as default. I'll take care of it for you". This is not going to be good. – cockypup Jun 15 '15 at 14:04
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    If you have a printed color chart, you can verify some color here and there in your images, and see if the recipe is close to the CMYK recipe on the chart. Especially skin tones. And compare very easy color like red485 or reflex blue... if you see you have some K in your red or too much cyan, you already know that in general the rest might be "distorted" with the same values. If you don't have a chart, use the numbers for the recipes you'll find online, and don't embed any profile to your image. The numbers with the values can be trusted but the screen not always! Maybe that can help. – go-junta Jun 15 '15 at 15:57

The short answer is yes. The GRACoL file will print darker under SWOP conditions.

The differences between GRACoL and SWOP depend on which GRACoL and SWOP you’re talking about. The main difference is the amount of ink being laid down on the paper.

Typically CRACoL has TAC of 320% and up to 340% depending on the destination of the GRACoL profile used. SWOP on the other hand is limited to 280% for SWOP 5 or 300% for SWOP 3. That can be a big swing.

Color Management comes into play as well on both the client side and on the printers side and whether they use embedded profiles, how the printer handles files with and without embedded profiles and what/if they convert to an ‘in-house’ profile for their press conditions.

Your reference to 40% dot gain on a coated stock is pretty dramatic but given that a GRACoL separated file was supplied, printing to the numbers could yield a much darker print than expected so that means the press operator didn’t make adjustments or pull the job from the press.

Printers today are ‘printing to the numbers’. That can mean different things to different printers but there is no mistaking a GRACoL proof for a SWOP proof so that responsibility lies with the printer, his print production staff and the press operator when the job started printing.


The differences between SWOP and GRACOL should not be that drastic. That sounds like problems in printing (such as the halftone not being correctly aligned, or carelessness from the pressman to keep it on color).

Just for your info, the SWOP profile is pretty much a "dumbed down" profile that most offset presses can match, because it's a pretty small gamut. Modern presses have a way larger gamut, so can do a way better job than SWOP. Most pressmen use it because they don't have to lift a finger to match it.

The GRACOL profile takes it a step further trying to keep an image looking similar across presses with very different gamuts, by keeping the hue as similar as possible, even if it is a different saturation or brightness.

You say "The print part was managed by my client," I'm assuming you mean the color proof. If the color proof looked like that, then it doesn't matter what color profile you chose! Sure it makes it harder for the pressman to match, but he can still get close to the proof. So I am either assuming the proof was that bad, and it is the clients fault, or the pressman was too lazy in trying to match it. (granted it is harder)

But I've worked as a designer closely with pressman (offset and digital) for 15 years, and that is what I see.

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