Our Printing Tests
Color Accuracy

Updated
What it is: The difference between the chosen color for a document and the result once printed. In this case, it's the corresponding RGB of a selected Pantone color. The color accuracy test is printed on AmazonBasics Multipurpose Copy Printer Paper at 92 GE brightness.
When it matters: When you require accurate color for a logo or a graphics-intensive presentation.
Score components:
  • 100% Average Color dE
Score distribution

When you’re printing casual photos at home for an art project, creative hobby, or photo wall, you want them to look good and the colors to look as accurate as possible. To achieve this, you have to make sure your printer can print well-detailed photos and properly handle color reproduction. While most people won’t notice slight color inaccuracies, it can be disappointing when you expect your printed photo to have the same vivid colors as the image you see on your monitor screen but then discover that the printed colors have noticeably different tones.

One thing to note is that the printed image will never look identical to the image you see on your monitor or mobile device screen because display screens use an RGB color space. It has a much wider range of colors than the CMYK color space printers use, meaning that printed colors can never be reproduced perfectly from a digital image from an RGB model. Blues are especially difficult to print accurately since none of the dye combinations in CMYK can reproduce the color the way it shows up on a monitor. This may be an issue when you need to print a really deep blue color for a logo or a photo of the sky and ocean. That said, it is possible to get colors that look close enough to the original to look good.

Test results

When It Matters

How well your printer can reproduce colors affects how good your color document looks. Color accuracy matters when you're printing a photo, a logo, or any kind of content in color. While you may not always need printed colors to look exactly like their digital counterpart, they do need to be accurate enough that pinks don't look red and yellows don't look orange. Otherwise, your graphs may be confusing if some of the colors look the same, and your photos may look bad if the colors are too saturated, flat, or completely the wrong tone.

Our tests

We use our color accuracy test to measure how accurate or inaccurate a reproduced color is compared to the intended color. We print a PDF file with six Pantone colors of different saturation levels in Adobe Acrobat Reader on letter-sized AmazonBasics Multipurpose Copy Printer Paper at 92 GE brightness. We test different saturation levels of each color: the original at 100%, one at 50%, and the last at 25%. We use the same paper and print settings for each printer we test to ensure that the results are always comparable. Each color is scanned with a calibrated NIX QC Color Control Sensor, which gives us a value to calculate the color variation. A lower variation scores better because the difference between the two colors isn't very significant.

Our color accuracy test documentOur color accuracy test document
Nix QC Color Control Sensor scanning a color on our test documentNix QC Color Control Sensor

Average Color dE

What it is: The average of the difference between the printed color and the color reference for 18 samples using the CIE2000 color difference algorithm.
Delta E Perception
0 to 1 The difference isn't perceptible to the majority
1 to 3 A second glance is needed to see the difference
3 to 6 There's a slight difference
6 to 10 The difference is noticeable
10 + The colors are different
When it matters: For photo printing and graphic design, when the printed color needs to be accurate.
Good value: < 8
Score distribution

The color dE is a metric that shows the difference between two colors. To calculate this, we measure the difference between 6 Pantone colors and the result of the colors printed. For each color, we test different saturation levels: the original at 100%, one at 50%, and the last at 25%.

First, we open a document of six Pantone colors and their different saturation in Adobe Acrobat Reader and verify that all settings are standard before printing the document. Then, we use a calibrated NIX QC Color Control Sensor to scan each color on the printed document. The color sensor gives us a CIELAB value, which we record in a spreadsheet, and using the CIELAB2000 algorithm, we then calculate the deviation for each color. We repeat this step for all six colors and their saturation variants. Then, we take the average of all 18 results to give us an average color dE, and we base our overall Color Accuracy score on this average value.

Below are two results from our color accuracy test. The image on the right shows an example of a printer with fantastic color accuracy, and the photo on the left shows an example of a printer with terrible color accuracy.

An example of fantastic color accuracy, the HP DeskJet 2755e.HP DeskJet 2755e. Average color dE: 7.13 (Fantastic)
An example of terrible color accuracy, the Epson Expression ET-2750.Epson Expression ET-2750. Average color dE: 13.12 (Terrible)

Once we've performed our color accuracy test and inputted all of our results, we scan the image using an Epson Perfection V600 Photo scanner, then upload the scanned image to the review.

How To Get The Best Results

Color accuracy can be affected by many factors, so there are a few things to consider when you're printing color content. This includes the type of ink, the print settings, the quality, weight, and type of paper, and, most importantly, the printer itself. If you work in a professional environment where accuracy is very important, you'll especially want to purchase a printer that can produce accurate colors.

While converting a photo in an RGB color space to a CMYK color space can also help you get more accurate colors, keep in mind that this is important mostly for people in industries where color reproduction needs to be exact. The majority of people likely don't want to deal with installing fancy editing software, so the best option is to choose a printer with good enough color accuracy for your needs.

Conclusion

How accurately a printer can reproduce colors may be important to you if you want your color documents to look great, whether you're printing stickers and designs for an art project or creating a photo wall of 4" x 6" memories. While it's impossible for your printed colors to perfectly match the ones you see on a display screen, some printers are very good at coming as close as possible to the actual color. You can use our color accuracy table above to see which printers reproduce colors the best and check out the photos for a visual representation. 

If you're interested in how we test photo printing quality, another important aspect when you want to print pictures, check out our photo printing quality article.

Discussions