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What is a “Spot” Color?

A Pantone color guide book fanned open

Spot Color Definition

In printing, a Spot Color refers to a color that is created from a specific ink formula, as opposed to a color that is created with the CMYK printing process. Because the vast majority of spot color formulas are derived from the Pantone Matching System (PMS), spot colors are commonly referred to as PMS colors or Pantone colors.

What is the Pantone Matching System?

The Pantone Matching System is a standardized system of colors used worldwide by printers, graphic designers, advertising agencies, ink manufacturers, and related professions. The Pantone system was developed in the early 1960's and provides a universal method for selecting, communicating, and applying specific ink colors.

Various Pantone color samples with identification numbers
Every Pantone color has a unique identification number for easier referencing

By adhering to the Pantone color formulas, any color chosen from the Pantone collection will be consistently accurate regardless of where or when it is printed. All Pantone colors are coded with a unique identification number for easy referencing.

Spot Color vs CMYK Process Color

Unlike CMYK process printing, which simulates colors by overlapping cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink dots on the paper, spot colors are pure colors. Spot colors are pre-mixed prior to being placed into the printing press and are applied as solid, standalone ink impressions on the paper.

A project may be printed exclusively with one or more spot ink colors. Or, spot ink colors can be used in addition to the four CMYK ink colors. That said, projects are rarely designed to have spot colors overlap other colors on the paper. This helps maintain the color integrity of the spot colors.

Related Article: How do PMS Colors differ from the CMYK Printing Process?

Only Offset Presses can print every Spot Color

Every spot color can be printed using the offset printing method of production. Some Digital printing presses have the capability to output certain spot colors, but not every one. Most Digital presses can only simulate a spot color, which will closely resemble the chosen spot color but will not be an exact match.

Why do we even need Spot Colors?

By using just the four ink colors of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, the CMYK printing process can generate around 16,000 colors. However, there are still many colors that the CMYK process cannot accurately recreate, including fluorescent and metallic colors. This is where spot colors come into play. Currently, there are over 2,000 Pantone spot colors which help round out the color pallet available for print projects.

In addition, Spot Colors are an important part of corporate branding. Many organizations have select "corporate colors" that are used for logos, designs, and taglines to maintain a consistent and identifiable brand. These corporate ink colors are applied to product packaging as well as business stationery and promotional pieces. Spot colors ensure the corporate colors will reliably print the same from project to project and year to year.

Do you have an upcoming project that requires Spot Colors?

Whether you have a print project that uses spot colors exclusively, or spot colors in combination with CMYK process printing, be sure to get in touch with Color Vision Printing. Just give us a quick call at 800-543-6299. Or, submit your project's specifications for a quote by clicking here. We hope to hear from you soon and look forward to assisting with your custom printing needs!

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