Color Me Frustrated

As I have been alluding to in previous blog entries, one of the biggest challenges of the project was working with the colors.  It was impossible to know exactly how the colors would look on the factory’s mass-production printer as we were designing it.

The first issue with the colors was digital.  When Pat and I shared our JPGs and PDFs, we knew that they might be looking a little different on each of our screens.  But there was nothing much we could do to get around that.  We thought about sending a package through the mail with samples from Pat’s printer.  In hindsight, we could have done that, but we thought at the time that our timeline was too tight, and it may not have helped that much.

Initially we used the black and white home printer to judge sizing and layout. We put this over the white sample.

Rather than use international mail, I decided to print two pages of samples off of normal color printers.  Tian used one at her school, and we liked the result.  But then I printed the sheets off at another small store near our house, and as I expected, the colors were slightly different.  However, while they were not exactly accurate, these printings did help me feel that we were definitely heading in the right direction with the colors.

Then we printed a few pages of color from an office printer. It helped us to move forward more confidently.

After we had finished the base design for each of the components, we decided to take the next step and make an “Epson Proof” with the factory so that we could test a range of background colors (green, red, and purple).  Unfortunately the first print that the factory did had problems with it, and I had to make a second trip the next day.  When we finally got the right “Epson Proof” we reviewed the options thinking that they were as close as we could get to the actual print color ahead of time.  We picked the final colors for the design based on that.

This was our first color test print on the factory's Epson printer.

Well it turns out that when we factory did the “Epson Proofs” for the six sheets of final files, they were slightly different from the color test “Epson Proof” we did.  Initially Beau couldn’t explain that either because they technically should have been the same.  But after talking to the technician, he said that the toner levels of one color in their Epson printer had changed slightly, which would account for the variation.  While the colors were fine, I just felt frustrated that they had changed slightly yet again.

But there was still one more process to go through before the final colors would be determined.  Because the mass-production machine used a different and more efficient printing technology than the ink printer the factory used for the “Epson Proofs”, the colors would be close but not exact.  Fortunately, Beau had told me this from the beginning, so I knew to expect it.

For the mass-production, the technicians had to match the final color to the Epson Proofs by eye.

Knowing how much I cared about the colors, Beau invited me to come to the factory floor for the actual printing.  The factory printing technicians had to adjust the colors on the mass-production machine by eye to match as closely as possible to the Epson Proofs.  Then as they got close to the actual color, they asked me to help them fine tune it.

This was probably one of the most stressful but also exciting experiences of the entire game making process for me.  I was at the factory by myself, without Beau or Tian there.  That meant that I was entirely responsible for judging the closeness of the colors, communicating my desired changes (in Chinese!), and then giving the final approval.  The entire process took about 7 hours. At one time, the factory had a shift change, and I had to build relationships with an entirely new set of technicians. Fortunately, all of the factory workers were very professional and patient with me.  They were also in a difficult position.  Together we got through it successfully.  While this experience definitely put me at the edge of my ZPD and at times in my frustration zone, looking back, it is the part of the process I am most proud of.

As someone who likes to think through and plan every detail of a project, especially when making a big investment, it was sometimes hard to deal with the ambiguity around the color.  In the end, I had to let go and roll with the Chinese saying “Cha Bu Duo” or “Difference Not Great”.  In the end everything worked out wonderfully!

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