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How Many Colors Do I Need?

There isn't a simple black and white answer to this question (pun intended). In fact, a more accurate question would be “how many inks should I use?” A brochure might appear to be using dozens of colors, but in fact it is only using four process inks. The number of inks used in a job depends on the color printing method you choose.

There are basically two color printing methods to choose from: process-color printing and spot-color printing. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

Process-Color Printing - Process Printing allows for a wide spectrum of color choices. This method allows for the use of full-color photographs, while paying for just four inks (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). The only downside to process-color printing is that the printed colors aren't nearly as vibrant as spot colors and a designer may not be able to match a particular color exactly.

Spot-Color Printing - spot-color printing typically uses a colored ink system known as the Pantone Matching System (PMS). The advantage of this method is that the user can choose from the hundreds of colors available with PMS. This includes extra bright colors, dark colors, fluorescent and even metallic colors. Basically, any color you can imagine, you can find as a spot-color choice. The downside with spot-color printing is that, no matter how many spot colors are used, you can't create full-color photographs.

Can you use both process and spot colors? Certainly. People do it all the time. However, the more inks that you use, the more expensive your job will be to print. Before a job is designed, it's a good idea to talk to your printer and to your designer. They can help you decide how many colors you can afford and how many are needed to accomplish your goals. Whatever your choice, with solid planning, you'll be able to make the most of what your budget can afford by using colors effectively.

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