Choosing Pantone Colors vs Four Color Process

July 16, 2014 Production Team

pantone vs four color print process

Depending on your priorities, knowing when to design a marketing piece using Pantone (PMS) inks versus four color process inks could save you money, help to maintain brand consistency, and produce a unique, more attractive marketing piece.

Pantone Colors
PMS inks are custom blended and allow for precise color matching. Many companies develop their branding using these color formulas to ensure that their logo or brand colors are printed consistently, regardless of the material or manufacturer used. Imagine Coca-Cola with an orange logo instead of red (PMS 484 or “Coke Red”), or FedEx with a blue and red logo instead of purple (PMS 2685) and orange (PMS 021). Slight color shifts while printing process color could have this result. 

While process color pictures may be more forgiving and still look great, the brand specific colors may be altered, damaging brand consistency. The point here is not to say that printers have an inability to maintain color consistency (far from it!) as closed-loop color control systems on presses allow for great color consistency during the printing process. 

However, if a brand’s identity depends on unique colors, and across a range of printers, PMS colors should be a consideration.   

One last point about PMS inks. They also allow a designer to pick from delicate pastels, to jazzy metallics, to neon bright colors for use in visually impactful pieces.

CMYK Colors
The four color process consists of the printing process that uses four inks (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) to reproduce the full spectrum of colors required to print photos and graphics.

In addition, most PMS colors can be converted to print using this method. There are limitations however, and not all colors will reproduce exactly like the PMS equivalent. This is due to limitations of the process color build during the printing process such as trapping, dot gain, etc. Another topic for another time.

The upside here is if your brand colors fall in that wide range that do reproduce well with four color process, and are comprised of a build that is more forgiving during the printing process, there could be an opportunity for savings without sacrificing brand color consistency.

It is important to not only know, but understand what color you are trying to reproduce. Then, select the most appropriate ink, PMS or process, or a combination of both in order to achieve the desired effect, color consistency, and savings.

Consult with your print provider during the design and branding process from the beginning. They can provide guidance and suggestions to help achieve the desired goals.  

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While forming your brand image and marketing pieces, it is important to understand the Four color vs Pantone color processes.

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