Spot vs. Process Color

Spot Colors

Colors made without screens or dabs, for example those found in the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM®, are called spot or solid colors in the printing, design and art world, in general. From a palette of 18 fundamental colors, every one of the spot colors in the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM is blended following its own novel ink blending formula as created by Pantone. You most likely blended yellow and blue paint to get green in your childhood. Making a PANTONE Spot Color is ideally the same, however with the additional requirement for precision.

The precision starts with the printing ink makers—who are authorized by Pantone—to fabricate inks for blending PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM Colors. To hold their permit, they are required to submit tests annually of the 18 essential colors to be approved officially by Pantone. Printers would then be able to arrange the colors by number or blend it themselves as per the ink blending formula in a PANTONE® FORMULA GUIDE. A PANTONE Chip provided with the ink as well as color job guarantees that the printer accomplishes the exact shading requested for by the client.

Every color in the System has a special name or number followed by either a C or U. The letter postfix alludes to the paper stock on which it is printed: C for Coated paper and U for Uncoated paper. Likewise made without screens, PANTONE metallic and pastel colors are viewed as a major aspect of the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM.

Because of the range of the 18 essential color in the gamut, some spot colors will be cleaner and more brilliant than if they were made in the four-shading process explained below. Spot colors are normally utilized in corporate logos and personality programs, and in one, two or three-color jobs.

So, in simple terms, spot colors are definite, ‘on spot’ colors that are the final deal in themselves. They are the ready-made product, in a way. They cannot be mixed with other spot colors to create new colors. You can think of them as the base colors, and they remain as they are. For instance, if you want red, you get red. If there is no other variation of it—such as scarlet or vermilion—you cannot go for something ‘in between’ red.

Applications of Spot Colors and Spot Color Printing

These colors are best applicable when you need an exact color printed. This is mostly needed when brand logos are to be printed. Think of those on the likes of MacDonald’s and Starbucks. In other words, when a precise color is needed for printing, spot colors’ gamut is picked up. Pantone and Toyo are some leading companies using spot color printing extensively for their color gamut and associated accessories.

Pros and Cons of Spot Color Printing

  1. The biggest pro of spot color printing is that it’s cheaper than process color printing.
  2. It lasts longer, especially under direct sunlight or other forms of extreme weather conditions.
  3. Spot color are super bright! Their vibrancy and brilliancy is unparalleled, to say the least.

And as for the cons…

  1. It only has one disadvantage: since there is no mix this color with that color to get a new color, you cannot get a wider range of colors printed. You have to make do with standard colors already available.

Process Colors

The most well-known strategy for accomplishing color in printing is known as CMYK, four–shading process, 4/c process or even simply process. To imitate a shading picture, a document is isolated into four unique hues: Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow (Y) and Black (K).

During isolation, screen tints comprising little dots are applied at various points to every one of the four hues. The screened partitions are then moved to four diverse printing plates, one for each shading and run on a print machine with one shading overprinting the next. The composite picture tricks the naked eye such that it looks like one, continuous tone.

Process colors are graphically represented in the form of percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Changing the percentages offers a great many shading prospects. At the point when four-shading process printing is utilized to duplicate photos, improving components—for example, fringes and designs—can be made out of process colors. This assists with avoiding additional cost of an extra plate required to print each spot shading.

So, in simple terms, process colors are derivatives that you get by the 4 CMYK colors, namely cyan, magenta, yellow and black. You can get millions or even trillions of different shades, tones and tints by just mixing these 4 colors and varying their degrees or percentages, as explained above. They are not the ready-made product, but children of other, ‘parent’ colors. For example, if you want a shade of red that is darker than vermilion but lighter than scarlet, you can do so by varying one, two, three and/or all four of the CMYK color tones.

Applications of Process Colors and Process Color Printing

Process color printing has way more applications than spot printing does. For most artists, designers and other creatives who aren’t looking for getting a precise color printed for, lets say, their brand logo, process printing is the right choice. It’s best used in sticker printing, brochure and/or pamphlet printing and in many other creative industry areas. The printer you have at home also prints following the CMYK process printing mechanism.

Pros and Cons of Process Color Printing

  1. The main advantage of process colors—and its attribute that makes it most sought-after—is the wide array of colors you can get as a result of mixing only 4 colors (CMYK).

As far as disadvantages of these colors are concerned…

  1. These colors don’t last long since they are printed by a mixture of a wide range of base inks. So, the individual color inks themselves are applied in a thin coating, which is how the final colors are formed. Even if that final color is a thick layer, individual color inks that go behind making it are thin themselves.
  2. The base inks tend to fade away under direct sunlight or other forms of extreme weather conditions.

Converting Spot Colors to Process Colors

In many cases, a spot PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM Color is mentioned while making a process-printed piece. To save cash, the spot color ought to be assessed to perceive how it will turn out whenever imprinted in CMYK or in ECG printing (CMYK+OGV). While a few colors can be reproduced well, there are numerous that are outside the conceivable shading extent for that procedure and will look different than the spot color you have in mind. As the nature of the subsequent color transformation is subjective, a designer can settle on choices utilizing the PANTONE COLOR BRIDGE® control and a PANTONE EXTENDED GAMUT Coated Guide.

Extended Color Gamut Process Colors

Expanded color gamut (ECG) printing, at times known as Fixed Palette Printing, has been around for some time now, gaining popularity gradually. It wasn’t adopted globally until only recent years. Essential working principle behind ECG is adding extra base inks to conventional CMYK so as to expand the color gamut.

Pantone has implemented a design for ECG printing of our own by including three base inks, Orange, Green and Violet (OGV), to the original CMYK ink set. The PANTONE PLUS SERIES EXTENDED GAMUT Coated Guide has printed 7-Color process reproductions of each of the 1,729 strong PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM Colors (with an aqueous touch). This empowers printers to more precisely match and replicate wider range of PANTONE Spot Colors.

Colors That Can’t Be Spot or Process Printed

There are some colors that are neither categorized as spot nor process colors. Getting them printed for logos, stickers etc. doesn’t follow spot or process printing methods, either. They are metallic colors. You cannot mix spot colors to get metallic colors, nor can you vary percentages of CMYK colors to get a metallic color printed. Printers will not recognize that formula anyway. So, if you want metallic colors printed, Pantone manufactures a separate, unique metallic colors’ extended gamut.

Combination of Spot and Process Colors

If you want another color added to your CMYK range, you can easily do so. Some printing houses let you choose a fifth, sixth or even a seventh color to be added to your process color palette. These additional colors, however, have to be spot colors. You cannot mix multiple palettes of process colors. Printers don’t recognize such complicated color formulae, either. Keep in mind that addition of spot colors to your process color palette will cost you more. The more spot colors you add, the costlier.


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