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Spot Color vs. Process Color

When to Use them and How to Choose Between the Two

As a designer, one of the most important decisions you must make is in regard to the colors in your design. There can be a lot of confusion when determining whether to use spot colors or process colors, and understanding the difference between the two can be the difference between a good and great final product.

This blog provides a brief look at some main differences between spot and process colors, and some advice as to when and why to use each.

Process Color


The most common method of printing involves process colors, which is a method of mixing inks to create colors during the actual printing process itself. A process color is printed using a combination of the four standard process inks: cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). Each process color is comprised of percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks. Various percentages produce different hues. For example, 100% cyan combined with 100% magenta produces a violet color.

The color image is separated into these four colors, then recreated with one color being printed over the next. The final image is almost an illusion—a cohesive image of beautiful color. Although the amount of process colors through CMYK may seem endless, process colors actually provide a limited color range.

Spot Color

Spot colors, in contrast, are ink colors that are specially mixed and specifically calibrated to match a coloring system. Spot, or solid, colors consist of pure and mixed inks that are produced without the use of screens or multicolor dots. Then, they are matched with a color management system such as Pantone.

Spot Colors can be thought of like paint swatches—one specific color is picked out of similar shades from a catalog. These chosen colors are then put down onto paper for detailed application in one smooth run. This approach can make more distinctive colors and it achieves an increased vibrancy overall. It’s important to keep in mind that spot colors require their own printing plate and press when applied to designs—meaning the print jobs can be costly.

Spot Color vs. Process Color


Process color printing is ideal for jobs that require multi-colored inks to produce an image or design. Process printing is the go-to when color accuracy and consistency are not a top priority. While four-color printing produces high quality results, there’s a chance of color variation across different printers. Use process colors when a job requires so many colors that using individual spot inks would be expensive or impractical, such as when printing color photographs.

Spot colors are best used when colors are outside of the CMYK range or when accuracy is crucial, such as in company logos or color-specific brand elements—think Starbucks’ green or

McDonalds’ red and yellow. Spot colors should also be used in printing jobs that require printing over a large area because spot color inks can provide more even coverage. Additionally, spot colors should be used with projects that require special effects such as metallic or florescent colors.


Interested in finding the right printing solution for your business? At GCB Solutions, we offer a wide range of printing expertise. Whether you need a custom label design, full packaging, printing equipment, or more, we’ve got you covered. To learn more, click here to schedule a free consultation with us, or call us directly at (904) 263-2804.


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