Spot Color vs Process Color in Printing

spot vs process color The difference between spot color and process color may not seem like the most exciting topic, but it’s an important thing to know when you have a printing project that you need to look just right! You’ll want to make sure you prepare your image file properly. At Sun Print Solutions, we use these two terms a lot when planning offset print and digital print orders, and it’s important to us that our customers know the difference so that we can help them get the best final product possible! So to help customers and print shops be on the same page, here is an explanation of the difference between spot color printing and process color printing.

a hand working on finding the right color for an offset printing project

Spot Color Printing

Spot colors are created by pre-mixing to get the precise shade you need, typically using the Pantone matching system. They are also referred to as “solid colors”. Once ink of different colors have been mixed to create the desired new color, the ink can then be applied with a single application. Spot color is commonly used in the printing of logos and other branded materials that require an accurate tone match. In offset printing, each spot color used requires its own plate. This technique is also commonly used in screen printing.


Process Color Printing

CMYK process color print example Process Color printing is a technique that incorporates the CYMK color model, also known as the “four color” process. CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and “key” (black). Final colors are produced by overlapping layers of dots in the first three colors (CMY), with black being added afterward to create shadows and details. The arrangement and hue-strength of each of the four colors creates a unique final visual. While the various combinations of CYMK ink applied in process color printing can produce a range of different colors, there is a limit to the specific colors that are available using this technique.For this reason, process color is not recommended if the final color needs to be exact. But you can get very close while producing many copies quickly.  Digital printers most often incorporate process color. 

Getting the Right Color for Your Print Job

In order to know if spot color or process color is best for your print job, you’ll first need to decide if you want offset or digital printing. If you’re not sure which style you need, check out our helpful guide for learning the difference. If you want to use spot colors, then offset printing is the only way to go (and it will look great!). If you opt for digital printing, your colors will be created using the process color style. If your electronic files were prepared on a computer using the RGB standard (which is used to display colors on digital screens like your computer monitor) then they will have to be converted to CMYK.  But don’t stress out! We at Sun Print Solutions know that most of our customers won’t be very familiar with this process unless they happen to be a graphic designer. We’re here to make your life easier.  If you need help preparing your electronic files for printing a very specific final result, we can help. If you just want your final print to look high-quality but aren’t too picky about the exact color matching, then we can easily produce your print to what’s known as a “pleasing color standard”. This is an industry term which means that although the final print might not exactly match what you see in your computer screen or the print you made at home, it will be very close.

Color Considerations to Keep in Mind

Before you submit your design for printing, you should be aware that the paper or card stock you select for your project can also influence how the final images look, even if you use the spot color process. For some projects, you may want to actually use both spot color and process color together. This is done by applying one technique to a surface before applying overlaid elements with the second technique. If you want to create an offset print using solely the spot color method, you may have to limit the job to four or fewer spot colors. Our team at Sun Print Solutions is happy to help you plan your printing projects so that you get exactly what you’re looking for while avoiding headaches. Got questions about which paper you should use for printing? Check out our ultimate guide to printing paper.

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