Millions of years of evolution have hardwired our brains to have a predisposition, an attraction, an eye, so to speak, for color. Every day we react to colors without even thinking about it: the red stoplight at the junction, the green recycle symbol on the plastic water bottle, the yellow splash of the "on sale" offer.

As marketers, we know well that color does make a real difference to the perception of a piece of collateral. However the issue of cost remains very real for all of us. In the past, volume was king. The higher your volume and the fewer colors, the lower your piece cost. In the past, color print processes involved high setup cost before you could even start printing, costs that were usually linked to the number of colors used.

As the world continually changes, printing has changed radically over the last 30 years and digital printing has enabled cost-effective low volume print runs - but that's not all. To stay relevant, commercial printers and print service providers need to become a trusted adviser on when, where, and how to use color for the best effect and result. Many are beginning to do just that which is a good thing. Marketers need that help to best understand the cost implications - and potential - of their "color desires."

1. Which color is the right color? Color matching has long been the Holy Grail for digital printing. Today it is broadly accepted that this challenge has been overcome. Even the humble office printer can provide reasonable color matching without a lot of effort. Offset printing was once considered the only choice for true color matching, but today's software can manipulate color palettes and adjust to the specific output device and media substrate, real-time. Some printing devices even incorporate image capture systems that monitor the printing process and make adjustments mid-stream to provide the most consistent output possible.

2. Less can be more. The use of highlight or accent color is a very cost-effective way of using color. This is where only certain areas of a document are in color, the color palette is usually limited, and the effects can sometimes produce better results simply by providing a less cluttered piece. Today some printer fleet service providers will offer pricing for "accent color" cost per page at the same rate as black printing making color a zero-cost option.

3. We need higher resolution - or do we? When talking camera image or printer, we love to chase resolution. More is better, right? It's true that the quality of a 3M image printed at 4"x6" or 24"x36" will be very different, but it's also true that that 20/20 vision only asks for 876 ppi/dpi at four inches. When considering resolution you need to think about how the printed output will be used, lower resolution may prove better in some applications. In the case of ink jet printing, some lower resolutions may provide richer colors as the drop sizes are larger. Another consideration is subject, our minds tend to be very critical of images of faces, and typically these types of images are perceived as better with higher resolution printing.

4. Make it personal, to make it get noticed. A sometimes overlooked consequence of digital printing is the ability to make every piece unique. Variable Data Printing allows us to tailor our message to the individual recipient; it allows us to exploit the timing and relevance of our offer to the extreme. Color is often overlooked in VDP, but should be considered a dimension that can be used to enhance the piece. A simple change can have a real impact, consider for a moment, the reminder from the car dealer that your service is due, there a picture of your model of car, imagine if the picture was the actual color of the car you have, it just makes the whole conversation more personal.

5. Consistency of color helps make the connection faster. Every time we reach out to our clients or prospects we need to consider how it fits with all elements of our communication reaching them. Color plays an important role in holding these channels together. Brand colors, consistent color pallets and application of themes all help to link these messages together to enable a dialog. Color can provide consistency across media platforms and increase engagement. In its simplest form, it may be using the same offer graphic on a printed statement and an email confirmation. In a more advanced application, it could be printing an offer directly on a transactional statement or invoice, and then putting the same offer on the outside of the envelope that is used to mail the statement. Now the recipient will see the offer before they even open the envelope, and when they do open it, the colors will provide a visual link that help drive awareness. The best part, you had to send the statement anyway.

The future is both bright and colorful, as printing technology advances further we see quality going up and cost coming down. Another consequence is accessibility, more and more devices are offering better color print capability at lower costs. Office printers now offer full processed color with color matching. Many now are capable of handling many media types, from paper and envelopes right though to magnetic media and plastic stock. Even mailrooms now have mailing systems that print color directly on the envelopes at the same time as they print postage. We have access to a broad range of output devices, and how we leverage color directly impacts client engagement.

You must take into consideration both the physical and digital channels together because the strength of linkage between them directly affects the success of a campaign. We often consider the offer, the words, and the recipient when we construct these campaigns - but sometimes we forget the simple things like the colors with use and how we use them.

Having a clearly defined methodology for the use of color is critical for every business, providing clarity for when, where and how color is used will not only help manage the cost of delivering color content, but will also increase effectiveness, improve efficiency, and build client engagement.

Chris Giles is Vice President, Core Mailing, Solutions and Competitive Marketing, Pitney Bowes Inc.