How "Spot" on is Your Color?


Picking and choose your company and logo colors.
Once upon a time, 4-color process (or full color) was obscenely expensive. But everyone knew that color printing was more effective than black and white or grayscale. As way to add color without asCMYK.png much cost as full color, spot color was introduced to the world.

Spot color, PMS-Pantone Matching System® or True Match® colors, are pre-mixed inks. So instead of creating color by laying down 4 passes of the standard Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK) inks, one pass in the press of this pre-mixed ink was all that was required to add a little touch of color. Bonus, because these inks are pre-mixed in a lab the colors can be more vibrant and even florescent and metallic giving an extra punch.

And then… there was digital. Suddenly, color got a lot cheaper! Now full-color is accessible to everyone. With press runs usually reserved for extra large print orders (usually in the 10,000 and up range) digital has become the standard.

So why are designer’s still pulling out ye ole PMS swatch books when choosing logo and other corporate colors?

The obvious answer is that’s it’s simply more convenient. Unfortunately, it can also lead to a very unhappy client and here’s why:

As a mixed ink, there is no guarantee that it will reproduce accurately as a 4-color process ink. “Full color” in both the digital and press worlds are created the same way. Four different transparent inks (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) are laid down in a dot pattern on top of each other. “Spot” inks are pre-mixed and can use other pigments beyond the 4 standard colors normally used.

As an example, just try to get PMS 021 to match faithfully to a 4-color print out. It’ll never happen. Even though 021 is not technically florescent, it’s close enough that 4-color printing of any stripe just can’t faithfully reproduce it. And worse, the PMS to CMYK booklet makes it look almost brown.

(As a side note, why ink jet printers can reproduce spot colors more faithfully than your average digital press is simply because many inkjet printers can also incorporate additional inks [6-8 instead of four], leading to a greater color range.)

So what’s a designer to do?
Spot colors still have their uses and and their place in the universe. Just because it’s no longer standard, does not mean that it’s automatically obsolete. And many clients still want to know what “their” PMS colors are.

The simple solution is, don’t match the CMYK definition to the PMS color, match the PMS to the CMYK definition. Backwards to how most of us were taught in school, but it makes the most sense. The super-brights, metallics and florescents can always wait for that special occasion to be used later.

Oh, and for the record, the closest you’ll ever get to PMS 021 is: 0% Cyan, 40% Magenta, 100% Yellow, 0% Black.

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