The Different Types of Color Printing

  • Date: January 6th, 2017
  • Author: admin

by Sean Miller

Color printing is exactly what it sounds like: printed images that have color. Color printing has become increasingly common as the years have gone by and some truly striking images have been produced as the technology continues to improve.

Color printing has a wide variety of uses, which can range from simple, single images on an 8 ½ by 11 inch sheet of paper in your home all the way to massive trade show banners you can see in convention halls across the country. But did you know there is more than one way to produce color prints? This is what we’ll be exploring today, so read on to learn about the different types of printing available to you.

Spot Color Printing

Spot color printing is one of the more basic forms of color printing is achieved by using a lithographic film specific to the color that you want to use. A specific color is produced by mixing two colors in various proportions. This kind of color printing is usually used for logos, backgrounds, and other more basic solid color patterns than in more complicated images. It’s also used to color different kinds of currency, specifically paper money.

The main spot color printing system used in the United States and in Europe is known as Pantone and probably what you’ve seen being used when you use two-color printing. However, people using spot color printing can run into problems, mostly associated with high costs compared to that of other types of color printing, like the relatively more common four-color process printing, which we’ll be covering in greater detail in a moment.

A fun fact about two-color printing is that it’s the only type of color printing that can produce some specific colors like navy blue, a really bright orange, fluorescent colors, and a lot of different metallic colors.

Four-Color Printing

Four-color printing is also known as “process color printing” and is achieved by utilizing the four spot colors, which are cyan, yellow, magenta, and key (the last of which being a type of black colored ink), thus creating the common acronym of “CMYK” that you may have seen before.

Similar to two-color printing, when these colors get combined and altered in various ways, they produce new colors. Specifically, the colors will overlap during the printing process and create a primary color. For example, when yellow overlaps with magenta, red is produced.

The interesting thing about four-color printing is that it’s really just creating the illusion of solid colors. In fact, what it’s creating is a series of colored dots closely knit together so it ends up looking like a solid image. Specific colors are achieved through a process used in four-color printing called “halftoning” (sometimes called “screening”) in which less of a specific color or colors in the CMYK spectrum is used. For example, pink is created with a 20% halftone of magenta.

Due to how four-color printing is done, the colors can only be produced on a white background if you want to get the full effect of coloring the image you want to have printed. This is why when you try to print a color image on colored paper—something you might see in a wedding invitation or flyer for a band’s upcoming performance—that the color gets muddled, unclear, or even flat-out wrong.

Six-Color Printing

Six-color printing is a less common and more detailed form of color printing, sometimes referred to as “hexachromatic printing,” known as “Hexachrome.” Six-color printing is similar to four-color printing except it adds both orange and green to the CMYK spectrum, making it the CMYKOG spectrum. These colors were added to create more vibrant images so image accuracy could increase.

While these new types of printing are more efficient and do manage to create more accurate colored prints, six-color printing isn’t as common as the other types. In fact, Hexachrome production was terminated in 2008 when Adobe stopped supporting the Hexachrome plugin in their software like Photoshop and other popular programs. However, six-color printing is still available through other distributors and companies.

Whether you want to use the simpler spot color printing methods or the more complex methods like six-color printing, you have many options available to you. Just make sure you know what kind of printing works best with what images you’re trying to present!