23 September 2023

Why does my poster look different when it’s printed full size?

Maureen Stone was on a recent episode of the Policy Vis podcast talking about the intricacies of colour. 

I’ve talked here about how designing a poster on a computer screen is so different from a printed poster. The light source is a big difference, and the resolution of screen is too. But I hadn’t often considered the size of the screen.

That was brought up in this segment of the interview:

Maureen Stone: Well, so I call that problem color and size, and it’s a really well known color perception phenomenon. So I’m going to give people a little bit of a geek definition, color is not how you create it, it’s not the RGB value, it’s how you perceive it; and how you perceive it depends on a lot of factors, we know it depends on background; and it turns out, size is a huge factor, so if you ever think about, you know, you ever go paint a room, and you got the little paint chips, so that’s a good color, and then you spread a bunch on the wall and say… 

Joel Schwabish: Yeah, have experienced several times, yes. 

Maureen Stone: Well, I didn’t know that it would apply to DataViz, but, in fact, it does. 

Joel Schwabish: Right.

Maureen Stone: And so, the real problem is technically what happens is that as the stimulus is the thing you’re looking at gets smaller, the color appears less vivid, less colorful, okay? And as you shrink them way down, pretty soon you’re just getting kind of warm, cool colors.

We see bigger colours as brighter colours.

A computer screen might be what, two feet wide? A printed poster might be four, six, or eight feet wide.

So something that might seem appropriately subtle on your small computer screen could seem garish when its area is four to eight to sixteen times bigger.

One way to test this might be to print just a small letter sized piece of the poster, but print it at full size, so you can get a better sense of how the colours will play.

External links

 Policy Viz podcast #244: Maureen Stone

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