Digital Printing Battles: Spot Colors Versus CMYK
Digital Printing Battles: Spot Colors Versus CMYK

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October 21, 2021

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The beauty of art is that it’s all different, right? When it comes to art in offset and digital printing, whether it be recreating photographs, bringing sketches to life, or helping designs pop, certain inks are more effective than others. For example, CMYK colors are ideal for photograph recreation, while the vibrancy offered by spot or Pantone colors are more commonly used for bold graphics or specific brand identified tones. These two frameworks are even used in the same print run – as in CMYK+PMS often to match a specific brand color. So, with this in mind, how do you know which color method to use and when to achieve your desired result? Let’s find out.

What is CMYK, and when should it be used?

CMYK, the common abbreviation for four-color process printing, involves halftone dots of color in cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y), and black (K). The black halftone is represented by a “K” because it’s the KEY to four-color printing: the other three colors are aligned with a base, black key plate fully absorbed by the printing paper. Substrate combinations in these four halftones work together, fooling the eye into perceiving continuous color in digital printing formats. When images are sent to the printer, they’re broken down into thousands of overlapping CMYK dots that blend and overlap to create full-color, printed images in a CMYK format.  

CMYK is used over RBG color in digital printing, especially when complex or boldly-colored images are required, because color is reproduced differently between computer or digital screens and in traditional offset print. Since exact color translation is far more challenging with RGB’s additive process, CMYK is the best and most efficient way to accurately reproduce color – especially in short or digital print runs.

What are spot colors, and when should they be used?

Spot colors, also called PMS colors, are different from CMYK: Rather than a color created using a combination of other substrates, spot colors are a solid color of ink specifically mixed to create a specific shade or color. The Pantone® Matching System is a common language of color that is used worldwide. A PMS color is a PMS color no matter where it is mixed, as long as it is mixed under specific guidelines. This ensures that “CocaCola Red” is the same no matter where a can or carton is produced.” 

Spot or PMS colors are rarely used alone in print jobs, and even more rare in digital printing. Instead, they’re added to offset print runs. If multiple spot colors are used in a given project, they’re referred to as two or three-color jobs. Unless a print run request contains a certain spot color to achieve the desired end result, or is specifically requested, it will almost always be completed in CMYK. 

Not sure if your next print run would shine in CMYK or spot color? Contact our team, we’ll walk you through which options will produce the best result based on your specific job or needs.

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