Four Color Process, “Spot Colors”, and PMS Matching

Color drives consumer behavior. That indisputable fact has guided marketing teams for a century as they seek packaging that evokes in consumers a feeling that matches their products. See if you can identify these modern companies who have used color to define their brand:

  • A certain red can of cola
  • A tractor that has defined a shade of green
  • The simple red bullseye used by a department store
  • A multi-color peacock for a TV Network

For a printer, being able to exactly match a customer’s color is critical to success. But there are many paths to that goal. As electronic (emailed) proofs have become commonplace, color matching has become more difficult. Every computer monitor and desktop printer is unique in it’s rendering of colors, and calibration of that equipment is challenging at best. The designer/customer and their printer must work diligently to avoid misunderstandings. Let’s take a look at a few strategies for developing color.

What is a PMS Color?

The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is a proprietary color system that allows graphic designers and printers to achieve common color objectives. A designer can use a PMS “Color Bridge” to select colors from a physical swatch book. Printers can then use the PMS formula to create that particular PMS color. Using a PMS color as the target gives both the designer/customer and the printer a common standardized color goal.

What is a “Match Color”

While PMS formula books cover many colors, they are not all inclusive. In cases where a current PMS color does not match the desired hue, a “Match Color” can be mixed by a printer. This process involves both science and trial-and-error. Once accomplished, the color’s formula can be documented and duplicated. Customers often request match colors when they have a physical sample (”match my dog’s fur…”) or are trying to match another printer’s label (for shelf consistency).

What is a Spot Color?

Spot Colors are blended inks that are formulated to match a specific color. A spot color can be black, white, red, blue or any other color in the spectrum. The Spot Color is blended and matched prior to printing, in which the press operator uses the pre-mixed ink to print the customer’s target color.

What is Four Color Process?

Four color process is a system that uses Cyan (blue), Magenta (red), Yellow and Black together to create a broad range of colors. This method is often referred to as 4 C/P, CMYK, or Full Color printing. To prepare plates for 4 C/P printing the artwork is separated (digitally) into CMYK “separations”. When done correctly a printer can print a very wide range of colors and very accurately match original artwork. The image below shows the four color separation and final image for a label.

My label only has green and purple, why does my quote say “4 Colors”?

For many color matching situations, we will propose 4 color process printing to achieve your PMS Colors or color match. Our digital printing press utilizes 4 color process almost exclusively to reduce setup times and ink costs.

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