Printing Pantones as Spot Colours V as Process colours

As a designer or as a marketing/brand manager, one of the most important decisions you must make is in regard to the colours that will be printed on your packaging piece.  As designers, we are regularly asked questions relating to this by our clients as there can be a lot of confusion when determining whether to use spot colours or process colours, and understanding the difference between the two can be the difference between a good and great final printed product. When colour accuracy and print colour consistency in the print run are crucial to the finished product,  then using a spot colour plate is the best option. This is how we advice our clients in relation to the printing of spot colour pantones as opposed to cmyk process.

Spot vs. Process
In offset printing, a spot colour is a special premixed ink that requires its own printing plate on a printing press.  Spot colours are printed without the use of screens or multicolour dots, and the spot colours are applied individually on press on a stand alone station. Usually spot colours are purchased pre-mixed or created through an ink system such as the Pantone Matching System.

In contrast, process colour printing is a way of mixing inks to create colours during the actual printing process itself. A process colour is printed using a combination of the four standard process inks: cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). Also used in offset printing, process colours are the more common method of printing. Although the amount of process colours through CMYK may seem endless, process colours actually provide a limited colour range.

Pantone Spot Colour
As mentioned above, spot colours are usually created through the Pantone Matching System, or PMS. A Pantone colour is a standard colour in the PMS that is used as a colour reference system in most printing and printing-related industries. Spot colours can vary widely and by utilising a system such as PMS, spot colours can be consistently reproduced and ensure accurate production of printed or manufactured goods across the globe.

Why Use Spot Colour
As noted above, Pantone spot colours can be fairly limited in their colour range. You can purchase a Pantone colour book that shows the difference between how a particular Pantone colour prints as a spot colour v as a process colour (highly recommended). It is up to the printed to match the pantone book colours on press.  Spot colours can provide a much more vibrant and detailed (and consistent) colour over the print run thus providing much better consistency from page to page. When printing a solid colour with process inks, there may be slight variations in the colour balance that can affect the colour’s consistency. Using a spot colour ink reduces the necessity to rely on an individual printer’s eye to ‘mix’ the colours on press. Print colours can vary greatly from printer to printer even when the artwork is the same! While spot colours may cost a bit more, they can add a lot to your project making the extra cost well worth it in the end.

When To Use Spot Colour
Spot colours are best used when colours are outside of the CMYK range or when accuracy is crucial, such as in company logos or colour-specific brand elements (think Starbucks green or McDonalds red and yellow). Spot colours should also be used in printing jobs that require printing over a large area because spot colour inks can provide more even coverage. Additionally, projects that require special effects such as metallic or florescent colours should use spot colours. Spot colours can add a little something extra to your project.

There are a variety of things to consider when deciding to use spot or process colours. It’s important to look at each project individually and assess what the correct option is for that specific project. Note: some Pantone colours do not print well as CMYK process – Oranges can look dirty or brown and the same can be said of greens. Blues can often look less vibrant. It also must be noted that printed colours can vary due to the type and quality of the ink used e.g. oil based or water based etc, the thickness of the spread of ink on the print run. It is safe to say that printing is more of an art than an exact science and this is why we are neurotic is pointing out to clients that they should leave nothing to chance in terms of printing and should always ask for ‘wet’ proofs from printer to approve, before authorising any print run. Pdf visuals are not an accurate representation of how a colour will print. The stock/paper type and finish can also affect how a Pantone colour will look – something else to keep in mind.

If you need further clarification, please contact Wil Lyons or one of the team at Artefact Ltd.