Pantone Colors

The Difference between Pantone Spot Color and 4 Color Process Printing

In commercial offset printing, there are generally two ways to produce color on paper from ink.

  • With the Pantone Matching System (PMS), printers use specific ink combinations to create unique colors for printing. The Pantone system has been in use for several decades, and the colors are identical from printer to printer by using exact measurements of ink.
  • CMYK Printing, or 4 Color Process printing, uses 4 plates of color to make an array of colors. This uses combinations of cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black) to display a wide range of colors. Because of the nature of CMYK printing, different printers can have slightly different color ranges depending on their paper, ink and printers.
Pantone PMS Color guide swatch book to match colors for printing |

Specifying Pantone Colors for Commercial (Offset) Printing Is Very Important

The Pantone Matching System is used when there is a need for a very specific color, which will be identical no matter where it is printed. Using the universal Pantone system, you can find the exact color that you want to use in your design, and we will use that ink formula to match the color.

Documents can also be printed in CMYK and have 1 or 2 spots where Pantone colors are used. This is typical for company logos that need to be identical wherever they are reproduced, even if there are images and other colors throughout the page.

Color reproduction is an important step in building brand recognition for a company or organization. Colors in advertisements, logos and products should be consistent across all platforms so that your audience receives the same impression with each message.

Understanding how Pantone colors are Printed, and Ways to Keep the Cost Down

For each Pantone color that is used for an order, there is an additional setup effort of mixing the ink, and setting up the plate in the printer. On the contrary, however, using Pantone colors requires less ink than CMYK, because it is only using one color instead of 4 to create a color. Typically, only one or two Pantone colors are used for a print job in order to keep costs down. If there are many different PMS colors being used, there may be a higher cost for setting up each color.

The high setup cost is why PMS colors are typically used for items such as business cards and letterheads that will only have one or two colors. These are also places where a specific color may be essential for branding purposes. Items such as brochures and catalogs are better suited for 4 color process (CMYK) printing because they will be using a wide array of colors, and a lot of ink.