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What is Spot Color?

Spot colors are used to match colors from a printed piece or design (example: colors from a logo). Colors are organized into color systems to ensure that a printer uses the specific color intended by the designer. Spot colors are drawn from these color systems. The most common of the spot color standards is the Pantone Matching System (PMS). Spot colors can also be used alongside process (CMYK) colors for greater flexibility.

All of the modern image-editing, vector-drawing and page-layout programs come pre-installed with a full library of thousands of Pantone colors, allowing designers and printers to compare colors until a match is found (this can be done automatically by most programs). In addition, designers often have on hand swatch books that show printed examples of the colors and their codes. Swatches are a more reliable method of matching or choosing colors because computer monitors are illuminated by the light behind them, which makes colors seem brighter on-screen than when printed on paper. Also, colors on a monitor are created with red, green and blue light (RGB) rather than mixed ink pigments.

Though some may view spot color printing as being much more limited than CMYK printing, spot color does allow for a number of color options:

- Two or more spot colors can be mixed to create unique colors and effects.

- Spot colors can be combined to create duotones, tritones and quadtones that can be very effective and can add aesthetic value to otherwise grayscale images.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to proof spot color jobs. Most proofing systems use CMYK based proofing technology. Some laminated proofs, which work by attaching colored sheets of clear acetate, have some spot colors available but these are often very expensive. If being able to review and approve an accurate proof prior to commencing with a print job is important to you, then you may want to consider avoiding spot colors.

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