Written by: Paula Fargo

paula fargo
CMYK Spot Color

I don’t understand what the difference is between “Spot color” and “CMYK”

A Ms. Christie Christina from Baltimore, Maryland writes in and asks “I don’t understand what the difference is between “Spot Color” and “CMYK”. Are you all talking in code, or what?

That’s a great question Ms. Christina! Remember when you were young and used to paint with watercolors in a little coloring book? And when you mixed certain colors together, you were able to make new and different colors? Welcome to our CMYK world!

In our wacky industry, when we are printing in color, much of the time we use “four color process,” which is also known as CMYK. Each letter in CMYK represents a different “primary” color that, when blended together in certain proportions, yields almost every color imaginable. The C is Cyan, a sort of cheerful blue. The Y is Yellow, a nice bright color. The M is Magenta, a very vibrant pink color. Finally, the K stands for Black, which is self-explanatory.

When these 4 colors are mixed together, they can produce purple, red, green, gold, beige, lilac, really any color you can think of. We use CMYK or 4 color process in two ways here at our full service Baltimore print shop. When we print a job on our offset printing presses, we actually use cans of ink, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, and the combination of our presses, plates, water, chemistry and skilled press operators are able to achieve most colors in the spectrum.

When we print a job on our digital presses, the CMYK we use is in dry toner form. The same principals apply, however; it is the combination of the RIP (that’s a story for another day!) and the inner workings of the digital printing device that determines the formula for the colors you are specifying. In fact, I’ll bet you have a color inkjet printer at your office or home? If so, then you know you probably need to buy 4 toner cartridges to operate that unit.

Now that you understand the CMYK part, we just have to go over the “Spot Color” question. Sometimes our clients’ printing projects require an extremely particular ink color, a PMS color, as I’ve discussed in a previous post. It is crucial for these printed pieces to have the exact same shade of color each and every time they are printed. This situation is often for stationery items, like letterhead and envelopes, when you have a one or two color logo that absolutely, positively has to be the correct color every single time. When that is the case, the best way to run that job is as a Spot Color job, where we aren’t trying to capture every shade of the rainbow, or print a photograph or other colorful image, we are simply printing one or two (or more) colors, and matching them precisely.

Depending on the exact specifications, either method could be more or less costly than the other. It’s best to rely upon the expertise and experience of your local professional Baltimore, Maryland printer to help you navigate these inky questions!