Process Color vs. Spot Color Printing

Process Color Printing (CMYK)

Process color printing, also known at four-color process printing, is a method that reproduces finished full-color artwork and photographs. The three primary colors used are cyan (process blue), magenta (process red), and yellow. These inks are translucent and are used to simulate different colors, for example, green can be created using cyan and yellow. The "K" in CMYK is black. Black ink is used to create fine detail and strong shadows.

Artwork and photos are reproduced when the colors in the artwork are separated, then halftoned (converted to dots). Process colors are reproduced by overlapping and printing halftones to simulate a large number of colors.


Spot Color Printing
If you need to match a particular color, perhaps a logo color, and have a limited budget, then spot color is something to consider. Spot colors are printed with premixed inks on a printing press or screen printer. Each spot color is reproduced using a single printing plate or screen. 

To ensure that a printer uses the exact color that the designer intends, the Pantone Matching System (PMS) is used. Each PMS number references a unique spot color and these colors can be found on a swatch chart. By using this type of numbering system, people can convey the exact colors for a printed piece to each other without actually looking at the same samples.

It's important to remember that spot colors may not actually translate to matching process colors. Unlike process printing, which prints dots of color, a spot color is printed at 100% and has no dot pattern.
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