Whenever a photograph, painting or drawing containing many colors or gray tones is printed, the colors and tones must be simulated with tiny dots. Dot gain refers to an increase in the size of these dots when they are actually printed on the paper by the printing press. The dots can increase in size rather dramatically once the ink hits the paper, depending on the characteristics of the press, the absorbency of the paper, and the nature of the ink that is used.
The effect of dot gain on the final printed piece can be an increase in color intensity, because more ink is put on the paper (by the press) than was called for when the image was output, making the colors look darker than intended. Because the dots have gained in size, the final printed image can look not only darker, but muddy, low in contrast, and blurry.
The best of the color separation utilities offer a way to compensate for dot gain by adjusting the color curves when the film is imaged, but sometimes the artist has to compensate for dot gain manually within the software application used to create the image. It helps if the artist, the commercial press, and the service bureau work together closely so they can adjust for the quirks of each others’ equipment and compensate for the dot gain effectively