Pantone Colors


“Are you printing that with a spot or is it in process?”


By far the most frequently asked questions we have at the shop are those about color. Which color to choose and why. And always questions about the difference between spot and process colors. Today we offer a brief explanation.


Spot Color


Spot colors are a single ink that is one solid color only.  Usually they are created through an ink system such as the Pantone Matching System(PMS), that provides a standard solid color that can be purchased whole or mixed before printing by an experienced pressman.



By using a color system like the Pantone Matching System, you can select a color that will be consistent throughout a press run. If you choose a red-orange like PMS 165, an ink would be mixed that is solely that color. When it goes on press, you can rest assured it is the same mix of ink at the beginning of the run and at the end. Or if you changed the way of printing, say from printing business cards, to vinyl stickers, to even outdoor signage you could maintain consistent color by choosing a spot color


Its worth noting that Pantone isn’t the only possibility out there. Many companies have specialty inks created that are theirs and theirs alone. All you have to do is think of McDonalds’  red and yellow or Starbucks’ green and you will understand the advantages of having a spot color for consistent branding.


It should be noted that the colors on this screen, although I have labeled them as PMS colors, aren’t exactly the PMS colors, but digital recreations. In fact it really isn’t possible to display spot colors on screen, because they are designed to be printed, not filtered through a web browser and various computer monitors. If you want to see exactly what a spot color will look like you will need a swatch book or a draw down from your printer.




Process Color


Process Color on the other hand is a way of mixing inks to create colors during the actual printing process. Certain percentages of  CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) inks are combined on the page to create whatever color you might need. This happens just like your first kindergarten color-mixing lessons – cyan and yellow make a green, black darkens a color etc. Process colors are great for images like photographs, but less necessary for work like text and logos that are only going to be comprised of one or 2 colors.


However, the continual mixing of inks in process printing means consistently printing a single solid color may not be possible. If  ink levels change for whatever reason (humidity, machinery, etc.) then the final color will change as well – a little more magenta in tone, or a little more yellow for example. Process printing can’t achieve the same level of consistency in numerous runs and across different equipment compared to spot colors.


Most digital printing is done in CMYK process (as in the ink cartridges for your home printer), and therefore its a good idea to avoid using spot colors when creating a design you will print digitally. These colors will be recreated in toner by the press, and although many digital presses do  great job in recreating spot colors,  if you want perfect consistent color its just not the best way to go.




You might end up with a color that is slightly off, like in the picture above. Although the process printing can get close, it isn’t a perfect match. This is especially true in cooler colors like some blues, purples and greens that lie out of gamut for CMYK printing.


The Best of Both Worlds

Another option is to consider the exciting effects that can be achieved when both spot and process inks are combined. A hot pink spot added on top of a process image of a flower, can truly make it come alive. Or a metallic ink could add a sense of  luxury to a brochure that is otherwise fairly regular. Process colors can recreate roughly 13,000 colors, so  the addition of spot colors allows an exponential increase in color and effect.


At cutpasteandprint we focus primarily on spot colors on press, and use CMYK process systems in digital printing. If you have any questions about whether spot or process would be better for your project, don’t hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to work with you to ensure that you have the best color possible for your designs.




3 Trackbacks

  1. […] or through the mixing of colored inks in the process printing system we discussed in an earlier post. And the varying spaces or size of these halftones determine how well the final image will print. A […]

  2. […] we are looking at choosing inks for spot color jobs. You can read more about what a spot color is here. Basically, spot colors are pre-mixed inks you use when graphics like logos with specific color […]

  3. […] Wait, what does that mean? Spot Color and Process […]

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