Process vs. Spot Color: What Are They and What Should You Use - pel hughes print marketing new orleans la

As a designer, one of the most important decisions you must make is when to use specific types of color. For years, there have been debates about which color printing method is supreme: process (which uses a variety of four main colors), or spot (also known as Pantone Matching System). 

Admittedly, there can be a lot of confusion when determining whether to use spot colors or process colors, and understanding the difference between the two can be the difference between a good and great final product. This article provides a brief look at some main differences between spot and process colors, and some advice as to why and when to go with each type of color process in your design. 

What are Process Colors and When Should They Be Used?

Process color is a way of mixing inks to create colors during the actual printing process itself. A process color is printed using a combination of the four standard process inks: cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). Typically, process colors are used in offset printing, and are the more common method of printing. Although the amount of process colors through CMYK may seem endless, process colors actually provide a limited color range. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used, however. 

In fact, process colors can be excellent for specific printing jobs, especially when the job is small. For example, a print job that requires multi-colored designs and photographs such as full color books, brochures, flyers and postcards would do well to use process colors. Moreover, your printer at home and even most commercial printers go with CMYK to print texts and images. And as the technology that uses CMYK advances, we’re seeing that most magazines and newspapers are printed using process colors.

How Do Spot Colors Compare?

Spot colors are usually created through the Pantone Matching System, or PMS. A Pantone color is a standard color in the PMS that is used as a color reference system in most printing and printing-related industries. Spot colors can vary widely and by utilizing a system such as PMS, spot colors can be consistently reproduced and ensure accurate production of printed or manufactured goods across the globe. 

As noted above, process colors can be fairly limited in their color range as the final colors are merely a combination of CMYK colors. Because spot colors layer an infinite amount of colors, they can provide a much more vibrant and detailed color. In addition to the variety of options, spot colors provide much better consistency from page to page. When printing a solid color with process inks, there may be slight variations in the color balance that can affect the color’s consistency. While spot colors may cost a bit more, they can add a lot to your project making the extra cost well worth it in the end. 

When To Use Spot Color 

Spot colors are best used when colors are outside of the CMYK range or when accuracy is crucial, such as in company logos or color-specific brand elements (think Starbucks green or McDonalds red and yellow). Spot colors should also be used in printing jobs that require printing over a large area because spot color inks can provide more even coverage. Additionally, projects that require special effects such as metallic or florescent colors should use spot colors. Spot colors can add a little something extra to your project. 

There are a variety of things to consider when deciding to use spot or process colors. It’s important to look at each project individually and assess what the correct option is for that specific project.