Blog Home Color Color Theory Process Color vs. Spot Color: What You Need to Know
Process Color vs. Spot Color: What You Need to Know

Process Color vs. Spot Color: What You Need to Know

Understanding the differences between spot colors and process colors can save you time and money when you set up a design for print. Here’s a brief explanation of each color profile.

Cover image via Peter Hermes Furian

There can be lots of confusion when figuring out whether to use spot colors or process colors in your design. As a designer, it’s essential to understand the differences between the two, especially if you’re sending design off to the print shop. Save yourself some time and sanity with this informative guide about spot versus process colors and when each is best used.


Process Colors

The more common method of offset printing involves process colors; these colors are produced by a combination of cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black), or CMYK inks. Each process color is comprised of percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks.

Various percentages produce different hues. For example, 100% cyan combined with 100% magenta produces a violet color. The amount of process colors might seem endless, but in reality process colors provide a limited color range when compared to spot colors.

Process Color vs. Spot Color: What You Need to Know – Process Colors

Image via Sailom

Process, or four-color, printing is ideal for jobs that require multi-colored inks to produce an image or design. Each screen is printed at a different angle to produce a cohesive image. If you zoom in on a magazine or newspaper page, you can see the CMYK dots laid out to form an image.

Process Color vs. Spot Color: What You Need to Know – Process Color Printed CMYK Dot Printing

Image via maurobeltran

Process printing is the go-to when color accuracy and consistency are not a top priority. While four-color printing produces high quality results, there’s a chance of color variation across different printers.


Spot Colors

In offset printing, spot colors are produced when inks are laid down in a single run. Spot, or solid, colors consist of pure and mixed inks that are produced without the use of screens or multicolor dots. These specific inks require their own printing plate and press when applied to designs, mean the print jobs can be costly.

Process Color vs. Spot Color: What You Need to Know – Spot Colors

Image via REDPIXEL.PI

Spot colors are ideal when color accuracy and consistency across print jobs is crucial; company logos and color-specific brand elements that feature few colors should be reserved for spot color printing. Spot color printing features a larger color gamut than process colors, which makes more distinct colors possible, such as metallic or fluorescent hues.

Pantone

There are several spot color systems to choose from, but the most common is the Pantone Matching System (PMS). Widely used in the creative realm, Pantone reigns as the proprietary color management system. Pantone specialty colors are mixed from a foundation of their 18 base colors; their inks are combined in a precise way to for their own range of spot colors.

Pantone’s swatches are indicated by numbers and suffixes rather than the usual color name. Each swatch is denoted by a three- or four-digit number followed by a letter. The letters U or C refer to Coated or Uncoated swatches. Coated swatches are used for printing on glossy surfaces, such as a magazine page. Uncoated swatches are best used on matte surfaces, like letterheads.

Process Color vs. Spot Color: What You Need to Know – Difference Between Pantone and CMYK Colors

Logo via 3ab2ou

Many of Pantone’s hues are available in the CMYK and RGB color spaces, such as their CMYK and Color Bridge books. Hues that lie outside of the RGB and CMYK gamut have to be corrected to fit within their respective color space, which means more vivid Pantone swatches will be toned down when translated to CMYK values. For example, the Luxestate logo above resorts to a hue within the CMYK color space, changing the overall appearance of the design.

Tip: When designing logos, provide accurate color breakdowns for spot, CMYK, and RGB. This ensures that your logos will look consistent across different color profiles. 


How to Access Spot Colors in Adobe

You can access the Pantone color system within the Swatches palette in Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign.

Illustrator

In Adobe Illustrator, pull up the Swatches palette (Window > Swatches) then select the hamburger dropdown on the right side of the panel.

Process Color vs. Spot Color: What You Need to Know – How to Get Pantone Colors in Illustrator

Scroll down to Open Swatch Library then click on Color Books to bring up a myriad of Pantone swatches, along with other spot color systems.

Photoshop

In Photoshop, you can quickly find Pantone colors by clicking the hamburger dropdown in the Swatches palette. This will pull up several Pantone books to choose from in the dropdown menu. Apply these colors to smart objects or photographs.

Process Color vs. Spot Color: What You Need to Know – How to Get Pantone Colors in Photoshop

You can also activate the Pantone swatches by selecting on a shape layer to bring up the Color Picker. Hit the Color Library button to select from a range of color books.

InDesign

Find Pantone swatches in InDesign by going to the Swatches palette and clicking the dropdown hamburger to add a New Color Swatch.

Process Color vs. Spot Color: What You Need to Know – How to Get Pantone Colors in InDesign

Change the Color Type to Spot and select from a range of spot color systems in the Color Mode dropdown. Select OK to see your new spot color swatch.


Converting Spot Colors to Process Colors

Did you find a Pantone swatch that works well for your design, but you’re unable to print that exact color? In Illustrator and InDesign, you can easily convert from spot to process in just a few clicks.

Illustrator

Pull up the Color palette and select the hamburger dropdown. Click CMYK to switch the Pantone swatch to CMYK values. This can sometimes change the appearance of your design, especially if the spot color lies outside of the CMYK color gamut.

Process Color vs. Spot Color: What You Need to Know – Convert Spot Color to Process Color in Illustrator

You can also accomplish the same result by clicking on your shape, then going to Edit > Edit Colors > Convert to CMYK.

InDesign

In the Swatches palette, right-click on the Pantone swatch, then select Swatch Options.

Process Color vs. Spot Color: What You Need to Know – Convert Spot Color to Process Color in InDesign

Change the Color Mode to CMYK, then alter the Color Type to Process. Check off Name with Color Value to indicate that the swatch is in CMYK values.


Looking for more design fundamentals to expand your know-how? Check these articles out:

Share this post
TOP