Spot color is one of the two most popular types of inks used in desktop publishing and off-set printing, the other one being process color. Spot color inks, also known as solid color inks, are pre-mixed; unlike process colors in which four basic inks are used to produce different colors. Learn more about the differences between the two types of inks and other aspects of spot color printing from the following sections.
Defining Spot Color
Spot colors can be defined as the colors that require their own specific inks for printing or publishing. In other words, spot color can be defined as a method of printing in which each color is printed with its own ink. These inks are available in the form of plates and each plate can be used to print a specific color only. Non-standard specialty inks, including metallic, varnish, fluorescent and hand-mixed inks are used to generate spot colors. You can have better understanding of this printing method by comparing it with process color.
Spot Color vs. Process Color
In very general words, each spot color requires a specific pre-mixed ink, whereas, process color inks are generated using four basic inks: cyan, magenta, yellow and key. Popularly referred to as CMYK, process color inks can be used to create all possible colors for printing and publishing.
A number of factors must be considered while preferring spot color over process color. In common practices, printing where up to three colors are to be used; it is favorable to prefer spot colors. However, printing more number of colors using spot color inks may be an expensive affair. Suppose you wish to print 15 different colors on a document. This will require you to have 15 different plates if you prefer spot colors. Using process color in such situations will save the cost.
However, the accurate color matching produces excellent printing results using spot colors. Big company logos, phone directories and professional publications that require fewer colors are the best examples of the spot color applications.
Spot Color Standards
A number of spot color standards are in use in the printing industry, the most popular being PANTONE. The Pantone Matching System is not only used in printing, but also in the industries that manufacture fabrics, plastics and paints. Besides, there are many other popular standards for spot colors. Toyo is another well-known system prepared in Japan that provides spot color inks in America, Europe and Asia. DIC color guide is also commonly used as standard for desktop publishing. ANPA is another spot color standard worth mentioning and it is popular for newspaper publishing. GCMI for package printing and HKS for coated as well as uncoated papers too are widely used.
Pantone Matching System
Provided by the leading Pantone Inc., the Pantone Matching System (PMS) is the most popular spot color standard used across printing industries. There are nearly 1,000 pre-defined spot colors that can be obtained by mixing basic Pantone colors. Each basic color is recognized with a unique PMS number. The Pantone Color Chart is referred to by the printers to choose the basic colors and to use them in required percentages. The system goes a step further to allow the production of special colors like fluorescents and metallic.
Spot Color in Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Illustrator has special provision for using spot colors with or without process colors. Color swatches are the tools used in the software to spot colors at desired places in a document. The Swatch Color Library file contains spot color swatches that can be used on swatch palettes to produce different types of effects. Spot color to spot color gradients and spot color to process color gradients are two good examples of such effects. Raster effects using multiple spot colors and combinations of spot and process colors too can be obtained.
Spot Color in Photoshop
Photoshop is popular software that uses spot colors by creating spot channels. A spot channel defines the area that must be printed with a specific spot color. The area to be filled with spot color is selected and New Spot Channel on channel palette is used to choose the desired color. Spot color separations can be created using Photoshop and are designated by the designers.
Spot Color in CorelDraw
CorelDraw has Pantone Library that contains unlimited spot colors. Note that spot colors in the software are represented by a small white box with a black dot. Tinting, shading, fading and many other effects can be achieved with the use of spot colors that promise excellent printing outputs. Going further, CorelDraw also allows custom mixing of different spot colors to further extend their variety.
ISO 15930-4 for Exchange of CMYK and Spot Colors
The International Color Consortium (ICC) created color management systems that are universally accepted across different operating system and software platforms. The ISO 15930-4 graphic technology standard makes references to the ICC profile that defines complete exchange of CMYK and spot colors. The digital data exchange makes use of PDF 1.4 (PDF/X-1a) in the graphic technology for the dissemination of CMYK and spot colors in different combinations.
Creating Spot Color Tints
As mentioned earlier, a number of effects can be obtained using spot colors, tinting being one of them. Tints are created when a lighter tone of a spot color is required for printing. Creating spot color tints is possible by mixing a spot color ink with another ink of matching color. FreeHand is one popular tool that can be used in this direction. The tool has a library that contains spot colors and other types of colors. The printer makes use of a desired spot color and mixes it with a matching color to generate tints.
The final finishing step to spot color printing is lamination that enhances the durability of the printed job. Special spot lamination machines are offered by different manufacturers from all over the world. Remember that spot lamination requires separate lithographic films for different spots.
Problems in Spot Colors
The main issue with using spot colors is that it may prove to be expensive if you wish to use more than three spot colors. Another problem with spot colors is that they might not produce desired results with certain media like catalogs. To print company logo on catalogs, you may have to first convert it into CMYK format. Moreover, there are some spot colors that are hard to be matched perfectly with their process color counterparts. Going further, only a vector-based file could be used to print spot color logos. Pixel-based images usually produce less desired results with these colors.
Spot colors are desirable when you wish to achieve more uniform coating of ink and more consistent coloring. If you are concerned about better branding of your printing jobs, don’t give a second thought to using spot colors even if they cost higher.