Why Doesn’t My Printer Color Match My Monitor?

January 10, 2023

4 min read

CYMK Novatech

In this article we are going to explain, in some detail, why what you are seeing on the paper may be a bit different than what you are seeing on your display. We have been in the printer and copier industry for 30 years, and this will be our best attempt to help you understand what is happening, and what can be done to get the result you are hoping for.



The first color issue to overcome is the RGB color of the display you are looking at vs the CMYK the printer uses. A display uses (R)ed, (B)lue and (G)reen to make all of the colors. Since it is a light display, it adds light (white) to be used and is naturally black (when turned off) to give another color to be used. So, a monitor has 3 primary colors it uses for display, plus it uses light to create the visual colors we see and recognize.

A printer, on the other hand, is going to be printing on white paper, and doesn’t have black naturally available. So, printer ink uses (C)yan, (M)agenta, (Y)ellow, and Blac(k) or “(K)ey color” as the standard colors within a laser printer.

Getting RGB to convert to CMYK is done through color theory and there are Pantone colors universally accepted as being accurate. The issue we often see is a customer isn’t concerned about Pantone matching, they are concerned with how they want their own documents to look or what they are used to their documents looking like from a prior device.

Having the colors match what is on the screen becomes even more tricky when you consider each monitor is not using the same exact color strategy. Some monitors are brighter, and others are more muted. You can put 20 monitors side by side and see significant differences in quality and color (this is why electronics stores display all their TV’s, because they don’t look the same as each other.)

If you have the marketing person with a high end monitor and the sales rep with a lower end monitor, and the sales rep complains their printed document looks different than the monitor, whose monitor should the printer try to match? Printers don’t concern themselves with what monitor you are using, but simply the raw colors the print files say to print.


Postscript vs PCL

The next challenge you could face is one of drivers. Print drivers handle color differently than other drivers. Some are more bold, have more options or synch differently with different software. We have noticed this a lot with Postscript (PS) and PCL. Sometimes, when there are color complaints, we help the client install the other driver, and they think the new driver fixed the problem, when the new driver simply handled the color differently. Most often, it wasn’t ever a problem, just a color preference.

One of the fastest things to try if you don’t like your color output is to use another driver than what you are using (assuming you are on a PC, sometimes Macs only have the PS driver.)  This could give you the result you are looking for.

Another thing to try is to look for color profiles. Xerox has about 15 such profiles within their PS driver and all 15 handle color differently. This goes to show how complicated color theory can get. Within Xerox color choices you will see Vivid RGB, Commercial SWOP, etc. All of these different profiles handle color in a different way.

Within most drivers, there are even micro adjustments you can make to add more magenta, or cyan, or yellow to get closer to what you are looking for. The current print file can be changed too, which is often the better solution, because then the file is more likely to be correct for all the devices you print going forward. We had one client who had such bad colors on an old printer they had to change their files to add a lot more cyan and yellow so the grass would look green on their property brochures. They bought a new printer and then they were saying the houses were looking green, forgetting the adjustments they had been making on files were for a printer that had the color wrong in the first place.


It Can Get Better

The takeaway, there can be many variables that impact color out-put. It could be that the printer needs to be calibrated, for sure. It can also be when the user looks at an RGB screen and it doesn’t look exactly like the CMKY equivalent. It could be that the screen needs to be calibrated. It can be the color of paper being printed on (cream colored paper will look different than white paper). Ultimately, in these situations we find a working solution, but it isn’t always as simple as the printer is printing the wrong color.

If you are having color quality issues, speak to one of our professionals and we can look at all the factors with you and make adjustments to make sure the prints you get are the quality you deserve.

Written By: Editorial Team

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