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Designing for Spot Colour Printing

 Designing for Spot Colour can be a challenge, especially where elements are being designed in several different programmes, for instance pictures in Photoshop, drawing in Corel Draw and the layout in Quark Express.

The reason for this is that different programmes, especially those produced by different software manufacturers can often describe spot colours differently. It is very easy to end up with a file for a two Spot Colour Job which contains four or six spot colour channels (for instance instead of just Pantone Reflex Blue and Pantone 032 the file can end up containing 032CV 032C Reflex Blue CV Reflex Blue PMS etc)!!

The approach we recommend relies on first understanding the way that Litho Printing is produced.

Before anything, which has been designed, can be printed it must first be reproduced on a Printing Plate using a Platesetter. The Platesetter uses a powerful laser to ‘burn’ the image on to a light sensitive layer on the face of a printing plate. The plate produced ends up being a combination of Black areas (the image) or White areas (where there is no image).

Every plate produced is monochrome (Black or White). Printing in Full Colour relies on installing four monochrome plates on a press which is set up with Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black Inks.

CMYK Process

Full Colour Printing Full Colour Printing
Full Colour Printing Full Colour Printing
Full Colour Printing Full Colour Printing

For Spot Colour work the monochrome plates are loaded on a press which is set up with the spot colours required for the job (e.g. Pantone Reflex Blue or Pantone 032).

Spot Colour Process

Full Colour Printing Full Colour Printing
Full Colour Printing Full Colour Printing
Full Colour Printing Full Colour Printing

The Spot Colours which are printed are not determined by the colours used at the design stage but only by the colours installed in the press.

We have found that it is easier to design for Spot Colour using channels of Full Colour. The steps to be used are:

Step 1) Decide what Spot Colours you require on the finished job. For this example we will use Pantone Reflex Blue and Pantone 032.

Step 2) Decide what CMYK Colours to use for each of the Spot Colours. In this case we will say that everything which will eventually be Reflex Blue will be designed in Cyan and everything to eventually be 032 will be designed in Magenta.

Step 3) Commence designing. Use Cyan for Reflex Blue Text, use Magenta for 032 text. If there is a Reflex Blue Photo then work on this in Photoshop and make sure that it is only a Cyan Image. Save it and import it in to the document. If you are going to have a Duotone photo then make the two tones Cyan and Magenta. When the Duo tone looks the way you want it to convert it to CMYK save and import it. For a graphic in (say) Corel use the Magenta and Cyan colours from a CMYK palette.

Step 4) Save the finished job and print it to get approval from the client. Of course the print you show the client will be entirely the wrong colours - Cyan and Magenta. You should show them swatches of Reflex Blue and 032 together with the print. In our experience this is one of the BEST things about using the CMYK technique for Spot Colour! The reason for this is that if you design in true Reflex Blue and 032 then the print out will be a Full Colour render of these Spot Colours. No matter how many times it is explained to the client that the colours are not accurate they will usually have in their minds that the colours they are seeing on the proof are the colours they will get!!! This often ends up being ‘a discussion’ when the finished print is presented. By producing proofs with ‘entirely wrong’ colours to those required this comparison does not arise.

Step 5) Order the printing online clearly stating, in the Special Instructions text box, that the Cyan is to be printed in Reflex Blue and the Magenta in 032.

The technique works well for jobs with up to four Spot Colours. In our experience very few jobs are more colours than this.