What is a Spot Colour in Printing?


Not using the correct colour can mean the difference between a consistent brand and a mishmash of vaguely similar shades.

It’s important to know what colour schemes you can use for the best results when printing. Different printing applications can use different colour schemes.

Spot colours are particularly useful and effective when specified for brand logos, where an exact colour match is required, and for documents using a limited range of colours.

Here we explain when and how to use spot colours and when you can worry a little less about it.

What is a spot colour?

Spot colours are used to get an exact colour match every time. A spot colour is a solid colour using a specific premixed ink. It is usually based on the Pantone matching system where the print operator has a swatch to match the specific Pantone colour reference.

What is a process colour (CYMK)?

Process colours are made up of a mixture of four main colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black). This is the reason why it is referred to as CMYK printing or four colour process. The print is made up of lots of tiny dots of CMYK to create the desired colour.

CMYK can be used to reflect a spot PMS colour but has limitations, for instance, there is no orange, lime green or metallic in the CMYK gamut, therefore these colours (particularly at the brighter end of the spectrum) can lack the vibrancy of their special colour cousins.

This is usually the cheapest option when printing, but you aren’t guaranteed to get an exact colour match every time. If colour is detrimental to your brand, it’s best to choose spot colour printing.

Certain print processes can only use CMYK process printing, such as digital printing. Offset printing and screen printing can use spot colours.

How spot and process colour can work together

You can create printed documents that feature both spot colours and CMYK colours. As an example, if you are wanting to use fluorescent or metallic ink in the design this can be used alongside CMYK inks to create a pleasing aesthetic finish. This is also a good option if you have a brand colour to keep to but also have bitmap images to include in the artwork.

The spot colour printing process

When the job goes to print, it has its own separation, which means it will have its own printing plates. With spot colour printing there are also other considerations, such as is the job to be printed on coated paper or uncoated stock.

There are different spot colour printing options for coated and uncoated stock, so it is best to know this when setting up your artwork.

Why use spot colour in printing?

Spot colours are often brighter and more vibrant than CMYK printing. These are best used with offset printing and screen printing. It helps to ensure that the printed products are the same colour every time.

What are spot colours best for?

It can be beneficial to use spot colour inks to create business stationery, envelopes and any marketing material that features your logo to stay consistent with colour.

Advantages of spot colour printing

  • Exact colour matching of specific colours on designs such as corporate logos
  • More solid colour with spot colours
  • Fluorescent and metallic colours can be used
  • Brighter colours can be achieved

Disadvantages of spot colour printing

  • More expensive and thus will affect the overall print price, especially when used with CMYK inks
  • More difficult to replicate colour when printing digitally

Incorporating spot colours can also limit the number of colours in your project due to the limitations of the printing press.

Where to use spot colour

For reasons of brand consistency such as logo colours, to achieve specific colours. Using spot colour printing will mean they appear exactly as required rather than as a mix of process colours.

Other typical applications include business cards and stationery, and highlighting key areas on your marketing collateral.

Wrapping things up

Alongside spot colours, there are many options with the colour you can take when designing your artwork. If you would like any more help or direction, or added inspiration for an individual project, please contact the Smart Printing Company team at 01274 741404.

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