Design Quickie – Spot Colors

So you have probably have heard the term “Spot Color” but you have no idea what it means. Here is a quick definition and use example.

1. Spot Colors Defined

A spot color is any color that is printed using a single press station and a custom or pantone defined ink. That’s it. A good example would be the red on a coke can. This is printed as a single channel color instead of a CMYK build.

2. Why is this important?

A Spot color can solve a multitude of problems in a printed job, most of them mechanical in nature and occur during the actual printing process. Individual labels are not printed one at a time. They are printed on a large sheet of substrate, usually wound up on a giant continuous spool, and then die cut in to individual labels or packages. The tone of the color on a CMYK build is largely determined by the pressure applied to the printing plate or cylinder by the impression roller. This roller put even pressure across the entire printed service, called a web if unrolled from a spool. IF that pressure is off on one side of the web, the color will print at different tones on each side of the web.

This issue is completely avoided by substituting a CMYK build with a single spot color. There is no tonal mix in a spot color to over or under impress, it is just a solid shot of one color. A spot color can have tones or gradient in it, but the lack of a need to mix with other colors makes it easier to correct for on the press.

The end goal of a print run is to have a set of identical individual packages / labels when the run is completed. When CMYK builds are used to recreate large flat areas of color, the overall color values can differ over the few hours of time it takes to complete a print run. The single color nature of spot color can help to minimize this issue. Tonal differences will still happen with a single spot color, but a CMYK build is created by printing four stations all of which can drift out of spec during a print run. This multiplies both the complexity and chance for error by four when compared to a spot color.

3. How does this affect my design?

Designing with a spot color is not only a best practice when designs have a large area of flat color, but they can make a color much less costly and difficult to print. A single color set up on a single press cylinder is much cheaper to manufacture and simpler to print. This reduces waste which is one of the most costly element of the printing process. It also aids in the creation of brand lines, making them easily identifiable, yet visibly part of the family of brands. I won’t repeat my self here so check out my article on designing with flavor colors. The solution is to use spot colors whenever possible in your designs. They are cheaper and easier to reproduce than CMYK builds.