CMYK vs. Pantone

What’s the difference between spot colour and CMYK? This is a question I get asked quite a lot and it’s difficult to explain in a single sentence – so I thought I’d write a little article on a few of the different printing processes that are available today.

Offset Litho Printing

The most common form of printing that most people will be familiar with is litho printing (sometimes referred to as offset litho printing) this comes in two varieties: 4 colour offset and spot colour.

4 colour offset

As the name suggests, 4 colour offset (or 4 colour process) is printing using four colours: cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). Because the inks are transparent, by overlaying different combinations and tints of these inks, a wide spectrum of colours can be reproduced.

This process is ideally suited to printing documents that contain full colour photographs, illustrations, text and graphics like brochures, leaflets etc.

Spot colour printing (Pantone printing)

This printing process is exactly the same as above but instead of using the process colours (CMYK), the inks used are “Pantone” colours sometimes called “specials”.

The Pantone range is an extensive range of colours including Day-Glo fluorescent colours and metallics like gold and silver. Some of these special colours are impossible to reproduce out of the 4 colour process.

They are ideally suited to the printing of letterheads and business cards that contain just a logo using one or two colours and maybe black for the text.

If you wanted, you could have a combination of both 4-colour process and spot colours, but of course the more colours – the more expensive the print bill. For instance you may have a brochure that contains full colour images but elsewhere on the page you may want something printed in gold or silver. Or you may have a logo that uses a very specific colour that is hard to reproduce out of the CMYK inks.

Batch printing or ganged up printing

This is a fairly recent development in the printing industry that has come of age with the internet. It is ideal for smaller items like business cards when the cost of producing one business card is prohibitive.

The idea behind this is that your job is printed alongside a number of other jobs on the same print run, thus sharing the cost.

The downside to this printing method is that you cannot specify pantone colours so your logo will be made up out of the 4-colour printing process (described above) and if examined closely will reveal tiny dots, whereas spot colour business cards are printed solid in most cases.

However, provided your logo doesn’t contain any special colours like gold or silver, you would be hard pressed (no pun intended!) to notice the difference.

Digital Printing

Another recent development is digital print. This is a completely different process in that digital presses print directly from the computer and so there are no expensive plate changes or set up charges. This allows for very fast and economically priced short prints runs of anything from 10 to 200. For longer print runs digital printing becomes less cost effective compared with litho.

Another benefit of digital printing is that each print can be customised. So, for instance, each printed piece could be personalised with a different name and address.

With the new digital presses available today the quality of the print is equal if not better to that of conventional litho printing.

So as you can see, it’s horses for courses. If you need any more advice with you printing requirements, please contact me and I will try to help you as much as I can.

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