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  5. Spot Colour Vs Process Colours

If you were Cadburys Marketing Manager you would understand the importance of a true representation on your famous purple. That luxurious silky purple (even before the metallic finish) on those little bars of loveliness is instantly recognisable as a brand asset.

So when you come to print a booklet for visitors to Cadbury World you want to be sure that purple printed in different surfaces reflects that very same purple you are renowned for. That is why you would choose Spot colour.


Spot colour is a process of matching the colour needed by mixing up the inks before printing. This can be done through the use of Pantone colours, using a scanner or by eye for truly bespoke colours.

Pantone is a company that provide colour systems for the selection and accurate communication of colour. They work with all industries to make sure colours are standardised worldwide from designer to manufacturer. Printer can use Pantone colour guides to match a colour and mix the ink by hand to the recipe Pantone provide.

There are various pantone guides for when printing onto different materials. For example, if you are printing onto an uncoated material then the ink make-up will need to be different to that of a coated material such as gloss. This is due to the fact that an uncoated material soaks up the ink more as its more porous.


If you have ever been in B&Q you may have come across the paint mixing. You could take in a cushion or throw, they scan it and recreate the exact colour in paint starting with a white base. This is essentially the same process for capturing the spot colour required to then mix the inks for printing.

The final way takes you back to basics, before Pantone or scanning technology, colour matching by eye. This process might be used if a colour is required that falls between Pantone samples, which is rare to say the least.


Once the spot colour has been identified it is a case of getting this on to a separate plate for printing on a Litho or Lithographic printing press. It is not uncommon to see a process colour print job needing additional spot colour printing.

For example here’s a hypothetical scenario: A big company such a ‘Virgin’ when producing a company brochure full of images may require the Virgin red colour to be printed in ‘spot colour’ It could be printed in full colour process but if it was so specific (and we know Richard Branson has an eye for detail) then only spot colour printing would do. This spot colour would be added at the end of the full colour process, as most large printing presses have an additional ‘towers’ capable of printing the ‘spot’ or ‘special’ colours after the main run of CMYK process colours in one sweep.


Process colour, otherwise known as full colour, is a term general related to a lithographic process, although digital printing is also full colour using the CMYK technology. CMYK is a process of adding the colours Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (black is know as K as it’s the key colour) as separate inks through a four-process machine. Different amounts of each colour are added to make up other colours, totalling millions of colours and all this is achievable using varied size ink dots. These colours are added from separate rollers in one pass of the paper through the print machine, making it fast and cheap for larger quantities.


This is an example from a newspaper as this print type exaggerates the ‘moiré’ pattern to suit print speed and paper type. The moiré pattern is the repetitive dots of C,M,Y,K, ink that make up the full colours when laid together, as you can see in the second close up image. A professional printing company creating leaflets, business cards or brochures would have a higher quality finish than this, with the dots being more refined, smaller and closer together and less course.

Process colour does produce excellent colours although they are not as accurate as the Spot colour process if you need something specific, like Cadbury Purple – this is the main difference comparing spot colour vs process colours.

If you were looking to create the metallic effect using metallic ink then you would definitely need Spot Colour as Process Colour cannot reproduce the metallic effect.

How accurate you want your colours to reproduce will help you decide on the colour printing method you choose. Usually, Spot Colour is used in company logos to ensure brand identity is consistent with the rest of the document being Process colour. However as full colour printing has progressed over recent years, its now cheaper to print full colour throughout than to specify spot colours, so unless you have a company who is in need of printing materials in other parts of the world, then by sticking with full colour process will save you money.

If you are in any doubt about what would best suit your print job, give us a call and we will help you work out what is best. If you found this helpful, have a look at our Guide to RGB & CMYK to ensure your artwork is print ready.

Lisa Cooper is a photographer and marketing writer working for Print-Print Limited, promoting business and building your brand through quality print marketing.

If you’re interested in small business promotion then please get in touch info@print-print.co.uk

About Lisa Cooper

Lisa Cooper is a photographer and marketing writer working for Print-Print Limited, promoting business and building your brand through quality print marketing. If you’re interested in small business promotion then please get in touch info@print-print.co.uk