Presto Labels Blog

4-Color Process Vs. Spot Color: Matching Your Brand’s Color

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CMYK-fish illustrating 4 color process

Did you know consumers recognize color before they read text or focus on other imagery? One study, called Impact of Color in Marketing, found that 90 percent of snap judgments are made about products based on color alone. However, selecting a color is only the first step. Protecting its integrity is just as vital. Color is especially important for new companies trying to establish their brand. Another study reported by Entrepreneur magazine found that colors influence the perceived “personality” of a brand. To maintain brand recognition and differentiate products from competitors, entrepreneurs must find a trusted printer. Is your printer using a process that ensures quality and color consistency while keeping your project on budget? Two processes that portray a gamut of colors are 4-color and spot color printing. What’s the difference?

What is 4-Color Process?

Process color, also called CMYK, is the most common method of printing. If you’ve ever had brochures, posters, flyers or any other marketing materials printed in full color, most likely they were printed using 4-color process. CMYK stands for cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y) and key (K), or black. The order of the letters is significant because it represents the general order of the printing process. When an offset or flexo printer prepares your art files, they are separated into cyan, magenta and yellow printing plates that are “keyed” or aligned with a black plate. When printing with a digital press, the computer separates the artwork into CMYK when printed with ink cartridges, much like your home computer’s printer.

How does it work?

How are so many shades created from just three primary colors and black? Printers accomplish this through a process called halftoning. Instead of full-saturation, the primary colors are printed in varying patterns of tiny dots in a layering sequence. For example, to the naked eye red appears as a brilliant continuous tone. However, if you looked at the printed red color under a magnifying glass, you would see dots layered in patterns to make up the red hue.

Can such a process really create consistent tones? Absolutely. Modern technology allows for endless degrees of saturation that are actually very precise to specific colors. If you need a certain hue of red, your printer knows exactly the saturation of magenta and yellow needed to give you the same brilliant red, every time, across multiple marketing mediums.

What is a Spot Color?

Unlike 4-color process, spot colors are solid colors. For example, if you want red, it will be mixed ahead of time and printed as a pure ink, not a mix of magenta and yellow dots. Color specification systems, such as the Pantone Matching System (PMS), provide specific recipes for the desired spot color. Graphic designers can pick a specific shade from their swatch book, giving the printer exact specifications. In turn, the printer orders that specific ink. Spot colors provide the most stable, predictable color results.

What Process Should I Use?

If spot colors are the most predictable colors, why not use them all the time? Spot colors are unique, and unique is going to cost more. Many entrepreneurs simply don’t have the budget to print using spot colors. Spot colors are customized and purchased specifically for a client. In addition, printers spend more on press setup time when customized spot colors are being used, an added expense that is also passed along to the customer. New digital printing presses utilize 4-color process technology that cannot insert PMS colors without purchasing very costly customized color cartridges.

With 4-color process, printers cannot guarantee custom color matches for all colors, but they can closely match a wide range of hues. Many PMS colors have fluorescents added for brilliance, which CMYK cannot duplicate. Colors will also vary when printed on different presses, different materials and when using different inks (such as water-based ink vs. UV inks). Let your printer know if matching a color is critical. Provide them with either a solid Pantone® color or with a printed sample, and request a press proof. Even though most printers charge an additional fee for a press proof, it’s really the only way to see what your artwork will exactly look like when printed.

Maximum Impact

Yellow arches. A red can of cola. We instantly know these brands, not because of the writing, but because of their unique colors. Color is the dominant source of identification for brands. Consumers instantly recognize their favorite label on the aisle by scanning for color. A study from Kissmetrics found that 93 percent of consumers place visual appearance and color above all other factors when making a purchase. Do you have a recognizable brand or are you working on one? Carefully select the colors for your brand and labels, and entrust the integrity of those colors to a reliable printer.

Presto Labels uses the latest technology in 4-color process printing and offers one of the largest selections of materials and coatings in the industry. Contact us today to discuss your label, shrink sleeve and flexible packaging needs.