Understanding color

Understanding color - SPOT COLOR, PROCESS COLOR, THE PANTONE INK SYSTEM

Understanding color

In the printing industry, there are two basic ways to print colors, and as a consumer, it is important to understand the differences between the two.

1. SPOT COLOR - When a job is printed using spot colors, that means that a pre-mixed ink color (commonly called a PMS, or Pantone color) is used to print each plate of the image. These colors can be selected from printed samples, and matched with extreme accuracy. In general, this method is less expensive, because the image can be printed with only a few colors. You will hear this kind of printing commonly referred to as 2-color, or 3-color, meaning that only black and either one or two additional colored inks will be used. Because each color must be printed with a separate plate (on the printing press) the fewer colors needed to print the job, the less expensive it will be, and vice versa.

The limitation of this method of printing is that it can only handle solid patches of color. Blends and gradients do not print well, and full color photographs are simply out of the question.

2. PROCESS COLOR - Also called 4-color process, this method of printing is ideal for printing full color photographs and complex images. Instead of selecting a pre-mixed ink for each color, the image is broken up into percentages of 4 standard colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK). When the 4 plates combine, the full color image can be reproduced with outstanding accuracy.

This method of printing is almost always more expensive, but unavoidable when printing color photos. Although near exact color is very achievable, it can be difficult, and takes more effort. The only way to know exactly how the color in the final job will look like, is to see a proof from your printer - a proof that was printed ON THE SAME MACHINE that your job will be output from. This is called a Match Print, and will cost over a hundred dollars, but if the color has to be exact, it is a necessary expense. A laser print, even from the printer, does not show accurate color, because the CMYK breakdown will print differently on each machine depending on its calibration.

In most cases a logo should be designed for spot color printing. It will be easier and less expensive to print, both on paper pieces and on merchandise. Your colors will be consistent, and therefore more distinctive.

THE PANTONE INK SYSTEM- Many designers use the internet for client proofs. This is a fantastic way to communicate, and is quickly becoming the industry standard. However, there are a few things you should be aware of. Your Internet Browser can only display 216 colors. The Pantone Ink System has thousands of colors. To make sure that your printed pieces will have the same exact color you are seeing on your computer screen, ask your Printer to see the Pantone Color Swatch Book and look up the colors you have chosen with your designer. They will be very close to what you see on your screen but probably not exact. If at this point you decide on a color change, study the book carefully, and inform both the printer and your designer of the color changes.

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