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Spot Color or 4-Color Process? How to Choose the Right Color Printing Method for You

Understanding the Differences Between Spot Color and 4-Color Process

4-color process label
For this label, we used 4-color process and gloss lamination.

You have your new label design and you’re ready to get it printed – but how do you choose what method of color printing to use? Color is a key part of your product’s branding, and you’ll want to make sure you pick the right solution. 4-color process and spot color each offer unique pros and cons. We’ve broken down the basics of how these two processes work and which projects they’re best for, so you can feel confident your colors will stand out.

4-Color Process

As you may expect, 4-color process involves four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key, or black. These colors lend their initials to the term CMYK, an alternative name for the 4-color process. You may have seen CMYK as an option in graphic design software as well, where it can be used to ensure the design will look the same on the screen as it will when printed.

CMYK also indicates the order in which the colors are applied during the printing process. Much like the art style of pointillism, these colors are applied in layers of tiny dots which come together to form a complete image. This process is referred to as halftoning and can create any color you’d like.

Spot Color

If 4-color process is like pointillism, spot color is like using a paint roller. In spot color printing, the area receiving color is completely filled in with a single shade of ink. These shades are mixed up in advance – just like mixing up a paint color for your walls. This method means you can match any color, ensuring you get the exact hue you’re looking for. It also means the color will look the same every time, which isn’t always true for 4-color process.

Choosing Between 4-Color Process and Spot Color

Although 4-color process can produce very specific colors, spot color will always be the most precise option. If you’re looking to cover a large area with a single color, or have just one color in your design, spot color may be the best choice to ensure consistency across products and bigger coverage areas. Interestingly, spot color is also a good choice if you’re looking to print very small type or fine lines: Because 4-color process “builds” images in patterns of dots, thin lines may end up looking jagged.

However, with this precision comes increased cost, both in time and money. Because these colors must be mixed up individually, they are more expensive to produce. Likewise, setting up a printer to apply spot color can take some extra time, particularly when compared to the very fast, efficient 4-color process technology. Still further, spot color limits the number of colors your print can have. 4-color process, by contrast, can print images with wide ranges of color, including full-color photos.


Interested in finding the right printing solution for your business? Contact us today at (904) 263-2804 or schedule a free consultation to get started.


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