Spot On
: How spot color can breathe new life into your graphics

Variety is the spice of life, they say. But when it comes to printing, getting the variety of color you had in mind can take some doing.

If you’ve ever printed a photo from your digital camera, you know that what you see on the screen isn’t always the same as what ends up in your hands. That’s because on-screen images and printed images use different color models. When you look at a photo on your camera or online, you are looking at a three-color model called RGB, whereas most printed images follow the four-color process called CMYK. When you go from one to the other, something gets lost in translation.

It’s the same on the professional end. We can calibrate our monitors, explain that the final piece won’t look exactly like our toner-based laser prints, and even go over the color-correct proofs from our printer, but in the end, all of our colors in processed printing are combinations of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.

Those four colors can cover a good range, but there are weak points that either lie between these four or completely out of their range. You want a vibrant green or a juicy orange? Forget about it! You may as well be asking for a neon yellow, reflective gold, or “shiny.”

What if you have a corporate color–one that designers and focus groups have whittled down to just the right shade–and it has to be exactly right for the newest batch of 50,000 company business cards?

The most common solution lies in spot colors. Spot colors are pure, one-color inks that do not vary (though you can get them in percentage tints). If you’ve ever heard of “Pantone Colors,” that’s what we’re talking about. You can get a great range of lush colors that encompass even neons and metallics, as well as spots of high-gloss (or no gloss) varnish. They give print jobs a crispness that processed colors often cannot– not only because of their purity, but because they’re solid, instead of a dot pattern.

Print jobs are identified by the number of inks they use on the front and back of the paper. A one-sided flyer would be 4/0: four inks (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) on the front, and zero on the back. An additional spot color would make that 5/0, which does add to the cost of the piece, but will hopefully bring some more zing for your dollars. Sometimes a job can be run as 2/0, with your favorite spot color and perhaps Black making up the front. This is common with business cards and stationary, and can be an effective way to reduce costs while maintaining a strong design.

Do you have any graphics that need to be kicked up a notch? Talk to your graphic designer today about ways to incorporate spot color—it may be just what you need to make your designs as vibrant as your message.

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