Breaking The 240% Barrier

By:  Jerry Seltzer of DragonPencil


If information is power then Amazon and Ingram are keen to keep you powerless. I am of course referring to the color management profiles of Createspace and Lightning Source. Rather than give publishers the exact specs, they instead give overly-broad and generally unhelpful adjustment advice. Were it not for the 240% Total Ink limit that they impose, it wouldn’t be that grave of a concern. However, since POD printing uses a toner-based method instead of an ink-based one, the amount of color on any particular pixel needs this cap. Too much toner will result in the words literally falling off the page.

CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) was already limiting due to the gamut of colors that are simply not possible to make with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Saying you can use only a limited amount of each color further complicates the problem. And now try to imagine making wall to wall children’s books with these limitations. That is the problem I, and the rest of the Dragonpencil team, faced when we first embraced POD. For months we fiddled with adjustments in Photoshop, hoping to avoid the greying of our books. There was little success, but no shortage of unhappy authors.

We eventually found a solution. Math. Calculus to be exact. Good ole’ calc is ideal for finding optimum amounts of limited things with a desired outcome in mind. Let me explain. The problem with nearly all “OVER 240%” colors is the K in CMYK. If you mix CM&Y you get K anyway. This is a slight oversimplification to illustrate the process. When you are dealing with a black area, you only need K (plus a pinch of the others for richness). So 300% of CMY = 100% of K. The solution, then, is to get the black out of the colors and the colors out of the black. So that’s what we did. We created an algorithm to change the formula of each pixel, one by one. We celebrated for weeks once it was solved. No more angry authors and no more angry illustrators. The method that we used is called Parallel Matching. We now provide that service to dozens of small and medium-sized publishers. The big boys must have their own proprietary solutions because we don’t hear from them.

But what if you don’t want to spend $14 to have your romance cover modified by a children’s book company? Try one of these methods instead. In Photoshop, with your image in CMYK mode, hit Command+6 (or the PC alternative.) Now you will be viewing only the K. You can Lighten the image to reduce the K globally or use a soft eraser set at 10% to gently reduce the K in trouble spots. Hit Command+2 to test the results and repeat as necessary. The second method is to use the Selective Color image adjuster. Choose the Black option from the drop-down and then reduce the cyan, magenta, and yellow to about 45%. If your blacks lose any darkness, keep fiddling with the sliders until it looks right. If you have a trouble area in a Red or Purple spot, choose the Red option and lower the black slider to about 50%. Both of these methods are blunt instruments compared to Parallel Matching but get the job done 90% of the time.

Lightning Source recently began accepting Pdfx3:2002 formats which allows you to leave images in RGB. That means that their software will have to convert it to CMYK. Perhaps that means the colors will be great. Or perhaps it means the colors will take a beating. I’m curious to know, but I’ve yet to find a client who wants to be my guinea pig.



Jerry Seltzer and his wife run a family press located in Savannah, Georgia. Long, long ago Jerry made his living illustrating children’s books as a freelance artist. As time went on, he met lots of great people who freelanced in other areas of publishing such as editing, design, and printing. After marrying his amazing wife, Samantha, the pair decided to build a business to support their family. And so, Dragonpencil was born. Together, with all the great people Jerry encountered over the years, they forged a company with the goal of helping authors publish great children’s books.
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