Spot color

Spot color

In offset printing, a spot color is any color generated by an ink (pure or mixed) that is printed using a "single run".

The widely-spread offset printing process is composed of four spot colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (black) commonly referred to as CMYK. More advanced processes involve the use of six spot colors (hexachromatic process), which add Orange and Green to the process (termed CMYKOG). The two additional spot colors are added to compensate for the inefficient reproduction of faint tints using CMYK colors only. However, offset technicians around the world use the term "spot color" to mean any color generated by a non-standard offset ink; such as metallic, fluorescent, spot varnish, or custom hand-mixed inks.

When making a multi-color print with a spot color process, every spot color needs its own lithographic film. All the areas of the same spot color are printed using the same film, hence, using the same lithographic plate. The dot gain, hence the screen angle and line frequency, of a spot color vary according to its intended purpose. Spot lamination and UV coatings are sometimes referred to as 'spot colors', as they share the characteristics of requiring a separate lithographic film and print run.

Computer methods

There are various methods to incorporate rather sophisticated patterns of spot colors in the final prepress artwork. Software applications such as Adobe InDesign, Adobe Illustrator, QuarkXPress and Scribus may generate spot colors as additional channels. Adobe Photoshop can also be used to generate soft edges (widely known as feathered edges) of spot colors. The dissolve effect provided by Adobe Photoshop layer patterns can be generated for any spot color.

Optimizing usage

Generally the cost and potential for problems for a print job increase as you add more spot colors, due to the increased cost and complexity of added process inks and films, and requiring more runs per finished print. However, spot colors can be a very powerful weapon in security printing, like money, passports, bonds, and other similar prints that should be hard to forge. Money printing for example, uses secret formulae of spot colors, some of which can be seen by the naked eye, and some cannot be seen unless by using special lights, or by applying certain chemicals.


Spot colors are now a great business for a company like Pantone. The modern trend in spot color matching systems is the digitization of spot colors. This idea came from the fact that a spot color print won't be a match to the monitor's colors, due to the inherent differences in printed (ink) colors and monitor (light) colors. To achieve a rather good result of simulating the RGB colors into CMYK colors in offset prints, a proper monitor calibration should be done to realize a good balance between reproduction of gray color on paper and on screen.


Spot color classification has led to hundreds of discrete colors being given unique names. There are several industry standards in the classification of spot color systems, such as:
* Pantone, the dominant spot color printing system in the United States and Europe.
* Toyo, a common spot color system in Japan.
* DIC, another common Japanese spot color system.
* ANPA, a palette of 300 colors specified by the American Newspaper Publishers Association for spot color usage in newspapers.
* HKS is a color system which contains 120 spot colors and 3250 tones for coated and uncoated paper. HKS is an abbreviation of three German color manufacturers: Hostmann-Steinberg Druckfarben, Kast + Ehinger Druckfarben und H. Schmincke & Co.Because each color system creates their own colors from scratch, spot colors from one system may be impossible to find within the library of another.

See also

* CMYK color space and printing (also called "process color")
* color
* color printing
* four-color printing
* printing
* Spreading and choking

External links

* [ Monitor Calibration (Written by: Mohamed Al-Dabbagh)]
* [ Article on Pantone spot color vs. process colors]

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