Spot vs. Process Color

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Recognizing the difference between Spot Color and Process Color will help you spec your printing projects to your printer for accurate cost estimates and job planning.

Starting with definitions of the two options, we can then discuss other determining factors to guide you in making the right choice.

Spot Color
This color is created by mixing ink using the Pantone Matching System (PMS) before the ink is loaded into the press. Hundreds of different ink colors can be matched by mixing specific formulas using 14 standard colors. A very basic example of this is that Blue & Yellow make a Green ink color. The formulas are precise and can sometimes rely on 4 or 5 different mixing colors to achieve the exact color. This is a solid color of ink and you will not see anything but that color when you view it with a magnifier.

Process Color
Printing 4 standard colors of ink on the press creates this color. Every Process Color project is printed with the same 4 colors – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black, also referred to as CMYK (the K for Black was explained in last months Markit-in-a-Minute). The press does not mix the inks, it simply prints a percentage of small dots for each Process Color to achieve the desired color. You have to use a magnifier to see it but the Green color you see on your printed piece is actually very tiny dots of Blue and Yellow. That’s how the press can print green without having green ink on the press.

Spot Color vs. Process Color



  • Precision color reproduction
  • Only one pass through the press


  • Cannot reproduce color photos
  • Cannot print on digital press



  • Unlimited color options
  • Digital reproduction available


  • Some colors do not reproduce accurately
  • Cannot reproduce Metallic or Fluorescent colors

Many other considerations can help determine which way to reproduce your color for the best result. If it seems overwhelming, give us a call. We can talk about this until we’re blue in the face.

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