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Spot Colour vs Process Colour: What’s Difference and When to Use?

Spot colours and process colours are the two most widely accepted colour forms used in the printing industry. Each one is suitable for a specific purpose. It is important to understand the difference between spot colour and process colour to determine which one will be your best bet. Read this blog

Spot Colour vs Process Colour: What’s Difference and When to Use?

Friday April 12, 2019,

4 min Read

Spot Colors Vs Process Colors

Whether you print business cards for marketing or choose a large format printing to extend your reach, you might either use spot colours or process colours for your printing project. These are the most commonly used colours in the printing industry. Often there can be lots of confusion when figuring out which one to use. But the decision is vital as it will determine the printing method, overall appearance, impact and budget of your printing project. Each type has its specifications that can affect your final print. That’s why understanding the difference between spot and process colour and when to use them is important.

Go through this post by a reputed printing company in Toronto, to learn how these two types of colour schemes differ.

Process Colours

Process colours, also known as full colours are made using CMYK technology. The image is printed with a combination of four standard colours: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. When these colours are used in different combinations, quantities and densities, millions of colours are achievable using the varied size of ink dots. For example, when you combine 100% magenta with 100% cyan, you’ll get a violet colour. The spectrum of process colours includes several unique colours.

To reproduce a colour image, it is separated into four standard colours and during separation, screen tints of small dots are applied at different angles of each of these colours. The separated colours are transferred to four different printing plates (each plate for one colour) and then printed one by one, that is each plate with a colour overprints the next. This creates a composite image which is an illusion of continuous tone for the naked eye. However, because of the dot pattern, the lines appear uneven or jagged, thus producing a dull image. Also, it is difficult to match and maintain colour consistency with process colour printing.

Spot Colours

Unlike the combination of four standard colours used in process colours, spot colours are produced when inks are laid down in a single run. The image printed is of pure and mixed inks without separate screens or multicolour dots. Each colour requires a separate printing plate and press to print designs, thus making it costlier than process colours. But the image produced using spot colours is brighter, sharper and provide more even coverage compared to its counterpart.

Pantone Matching System is the most common example of spot colours in the printing industry. It has a colour palette of 14 basic colours (13 base pigments and 1 black colour) and other colours are created by mixing different hues through a unique formula. That’s why printing exact colours that the designer intends is possible while maintaining colour consistency.

When to Use Which Colour?

Apart from knowing the difference between spot colours and process colours, you should also understand which one to use when. After all, each colour type is suitable for specific functions and printing projects.

You should go for spot colours when-

  • You want the exact same colour of your corporate logo as your brand identity depends on it (For example, the red colour of Coca Cola’s logo has become synonymous to its brand and is used by the company for marketing on various platforms)
  • Your project requires special effects such as fluorescent or metallic spot inks
  • Your project requires colour consistency on multiple or all pages
  • You want to produce unique colours that cannot be accurately reproduced with CMYK inks

On the contrary, process colours (CMYK) will be your best bet when-

  • Your project requires full-colour images or photographs
  • Your printing project or publication includes multi-colour graphics that would need several colours of ink when printed with spot colours
  • You want to print for short-runs on a limited budget
  • You want to print images that need more than two spot colours (using three, four or more spot colours is costlier than process colour printing)


Both process colours and spot colours are widely used in the printing industry but their use depends on the requirements of your printing project and the result you want. If you want to reproduce the exact colours of your logo or achieve colour consistency on all your projects, you should consider spot colour printing. On the other hand, process colour printing should be your preferred choice if you want full-colour printing involving various colours, but on a restricted budget. Determine what are the requirements of your project and then decide which one is the suitable option.