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Spot or process, is there a difference?

March 1, 2016 / admin / Printing

If you are a marketing or brand manager who recognises and understands the importance of true representation on your company identity then things such as colour accuracy in print will be a vital component in building a recognisable brand. For example Cadbury’s famous colour purple or B&Qs famous orange.

So when you come to produce printed literature across different surfaces you want it to reflect your brand as accurately as it is renowned for. So what is the difference between the two main print processes that would achieve this?


Spot colour is a process of specifically 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 the paper fibres are more porous.

Once the spot colour has been identified it is a case of getting this on to a separate plate for printing on a Lithographic printing press. It is not uncommon to see a process colour print job needing additional spot colour printing. This is where a job would be referred to as a 4 colour process plus SPOT colour.

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 needs to be specific 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 additional ‘towers’ capable of printing the ‘spot’ or ‘special’ colours such as metallic or varnish after the main run of CMYK process colours in one passing.


Process colour, otherwise known as full colour, is a term generally 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 percentages 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 faster and cheaper for larger quantities.

The moiré pattern is the repetitive dots of C,M,Y,K, ink that make up the full colours when laid together. A professional printing company creating leaflets, business cards or brochures would have a high quality finish with dots being more refined, smaller and closer together producing a sharp image or font.

Process colour does produce excellent colours although they are not as accurate as the Spot colour method if you need something specific, like for example 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, it’s 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.

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