Gift Card Printing: Getting Your Brand’s Color Spot On

By Kelly Solko, Senior Global Print Buyer 

Topps Digital Services works with some of the biggest brands in the world, but some of them have never had a physical product in the market before printing gift cards. This can be a daunting process for many brands to launch a product that their customers will hold in their hands when they have only provided services and/or digital products previously. 

On the other hand, some of our partners have printed promotional materials or mailers in the past. Many have been disappointed with the way that the printed piece turned out. More specifically, many are unhappy with how their brand’s color turned out on the printed piece.

Brand colors are important to protect. For example, a brand’s logo and the color of that logo are used over and over again to build brand recognition and brand loyalty. If color is not consistent, it dilutes that message. The Topps Digital Services gift card print production team acts as a brand ambassador for all of our partners and manages color globally for gift card programs. Here are a few non-negotiable processes that we have developed for our partners.

Spot Color vs. CMYK

Most brands have a very specific color that they use for their branding. These colors are either custom or Pantone colors. Selecting a custom spot color or using a Pantone color is the best way to achieve printing your color consistently. 

Printing in CMYK is best for lifestyle images or images that do not have a big block of color. It is also important to note that if you have a Pantone color that your brand uses, many times brands will try to achieve that color by printing in CMYK. However, this can prove impossible as many Pantone colors are outside the CMYK spectrum.

A pantone color strip and a printed gift card (Twitch).

Order Gift Card Drawdowns Prior to Printing

If you are using a Pantone (or custom) color, always request drawdowns from the printer. This is the first step in making sure that the color you have requested will be correct on press. Many drawdowns will come with one side uncoated/matte and the other side with a gloss coating. Uncoated/matte colors versus gloss coated colors will appear slightly different even though they are the same color. Uncoated/matte colors appear more muted, while gloss colors will appear more vibrant. 

When requesting the drawdowns, it will also be important to request them on the substrate that the gift card will ultimately be printed on. Substrates by nature have undertones even though they all appear to be white. For example, plastic substrates tend to have blue undertones, while paper substrates tend to have yellow undertones. As you can imagine, this may have an effect on the color. 

If you plan to use multiple printers, it is important to request drawdowns with each of the printer partners. Once you receive the drawdowns, you need to compare them for accuracy them against a Pantone book. Topps Digital Services can assist with this, but it is also important to get these colors in front of your Marketing/Brands team. 

A press check of a Netflix Gift Card print

Attend a Gift Card Press Check Prior to Printing

You might be thinking right now, “why would I need a press check if I just approved the drawdowns?” It is best practice to have a person from your Marketing, Brands, or Creative team on site to approve the color at a press check. Topps Digital Services recommends a press check for all new gift card artwork launches to ensure the brand will be happy with the final product. If a press check isn’t possible due to timing or travel conflicts, then press sheets are recommended. Press checks are preferred over press sheets to save on costs and workload to set-up/tear-down the print press.

Press checks are recommended even if a Pantone color is used. The printer can adjust the ink density, as needed, on the substrate to dial in the color. We have seen many partners approve the drawdowns, but when they attend the press check they request the ink density be adjusted based on how it looks on the substrate. For example, let’s say your brand’s color is a red Pantone color. Increasing the density can make reds skew more blue and decreasing the density can make reds skew orange/pink.

Pass with Flying Colors

Once you pass the milestone of the press check, your printer should lock in those color settings in the print press. The press team will pull press sheets throughout the print run to ensure color has not shifted outside of standard tolerance. They will use these print settings for each subsequent print run for your gift card. 

Topps Digital Services’ gift card print team would be happy to work with you to help you through the process of color and print management. We can take all of the heavy lifting off your team to ensure global consistency of your brand’s color. Reach out to our print team at print@toppsdigitalservices.com to learn how Topps can help launch your gift card program. 

Kelly Solko is the Senior Global Print Buyer of Topps Digital Services. Leads sourcing, global print production and marketing for Topps Digital Services. Kelly has been in the gift card space for 10+ years with experience in both 1st party and 3rd party programs.

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