There are a nearly a countless number of colors. However there are a limited amount of colors that can be printed. If you have ever picked a color on your computer and then have it change when you print it, you have experienced the challenge of making a RGB(computer) color with CMYK(printer) ink. No matter how you create color it plays a key role in any printing project. This is especially true with logos and brand identity. Having the same consistent color helps people recognize your brand, think Coke red, or UPS brown. These are colors that when seen you already know the product. They are spot colors.
If you want to know about spot colors, first you need to understand color codes. Each color of ink has a code. These are made up from a few different coding sources, but the industry standard in America is Pantone. By using the Pantone code system you can chose a specific color, insuring your printer can reproduce that exact color. So, instead of asking for a lighter, or darker shade of blue, you can ask for Pantone 300. If you are curious about what a color’s code is, you can find it online, check a color sample book, or if you are using design software, it should give you the code. Just make sure you have a CMYK color.
There are also letters in the code you use. If you want 300 blue you can use 300c or 300u. They are the same color, but it is how that are going to show up on coated(c) or uncoated(u) paper. If you are printing on glossy paper and chose 300u it will not be the blue you are hoping for. For more information about printing with coated vs. uncoated paper click here.
Printers work by mixing cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks. Adding these in different amounts can make all the colors you see on the printed page. A spot color is just an exact recipe for a specific color that you need. If you ask for red, CMYK will print red, but if you would like “Coke” red, you need the code to produce that exact color. This is very important when dealing with logos, and other marketing materials, because if you want it to look the same across all formats you need to have a spot color.
If you do need to use a spot color there are only certain presses that can print with sport colors. If you try to produce a spot color with your personal printer, or any digital printer for that matter it will be very difficult to produce the exact color you want. Larger presses have the ability to mix specific inks, whereas digital printers do not. This is something to keep in mind, because it can affect the cost of your printing project.
Things to Remember
Each spot color has a specific Pantone code. You and your printer use this code to make sure the mixture of your ink color is correct and can be repeated. You do need to be aware of the letter on the color code. You color will look different depending on what type of paper you are printing on, and choosing 300u when printing on coated paper will cause problems.
It is a good idea to have a spot color if you are dealing with logos, and other marketing material, because it allows you to repeat the same color throughout all your printed marketing. You need to use the right type of printing press in order to have a spot color. Digital printers may get close, but they most likely will not be able to consistently match your color.