Are You Printing Fewer Spot Colors Lately?

By | July 14, 2014

As I have poked around the industry, gathering comments and insights regarding print quality from print buyers and designers based on the What They Think / Unisource “Digital Print Survey,” I received an interesting comment in a LinkedIn print buyer’s group.

The issue of spot colors in digital print isn’t as important as it used to be, he said, because fewer designers are specing spot colors, whether for digital or offset, based on cost.

Here is the comment, posted in the Print Buyers & Procurement Group, by a managing director of a design and print management firm:

To be honest Heidi, I have had very minimal use for printing spot colours on digital presses. . . Designers seem to shy away from spot colours these days, but I guess this is largely due to cost rather than design quality. It is a shame there are not more designers specifying really bright oranges, greens and deep blues which can look so good but are out of the 4-colour process colour gamut. It is about upselling the design and print I suppose and convincing a client the value of something different from the norm but again it comes back to getting over the price barrier.

Does this match your experience? Are you seeing fewer spot colors these days? If so, do you agree with this designer / buyer’s assessment of the situation?

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5 thoughts on “Are You Printing Fewer Spot Colors Lately?

  1. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Some blog posts are just for getting information out there, and comments are a bonus. Other blog posts are intended specifically to solicit comments — and this is one of them. I really want to hear what Digital Nirvana readers are seeing and experiencing in their shops. Please comment!

  2. D. Eadward Tree

    Could it be because the clients are designing promotions intended for both web (or other digital applications, such as email) and print? Even if the promotions are different for different media, there may be certain themes or color schemes that are common across all media. Also, I’m guessing more print materials are being created by digital-first designers, who may not know about spot colors or may create for digital first and then do simple RGB-to-CMYK conversions. Another factor: For long-run web offset printing, most of the most efficient presses seem to have only 8 units. In my industry (magazine publishing), I believe that has caused many publishers to restrict or ban the use of PMS colors.

    Heidi, this is an excellent question, and I hope more people on both the printing and print-buying sides will chime in.

  3. Diane Dragoff


    Our umbrella organization changed our logo from spot to 4cp a long time ago during their creation of branding rules. Since all United Ways are local, there had been “creative adaptations,” shall we say, of the brand’s mark and font lockups. At that time, a branding book was created, it specified process and spot colors, templates for a variety of commonly used printed items, etc.

    Now, with reliance on internet, sheetfed, web presses, digital and other output, the simplest solution is for us to use 4cp across the board and adjust color curves where needed to get the best matching.

  4. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Interesting, Diane. Corporate specifications for spot colors is one of the reasons I often hear given for inability to sell digital into some corporate environments. As mandate for cross-channel marketing grows and the requirement to match colors across multiple channels continues to clash with the requirement to match spot colors, it will be interesting to see how all this plays out.

  5. Matthew Bernasconi

    Heidi Tolliver-Walker Says: “As mandate for cross-channel marketing grows and the requirement to match colors across multiple channels continues to clash with the requirement to match spot colors.”

    Totally agree Heidi. Spot (analog) colors in a Digital press is the problem. It’s an oxymoron. The solution is to digitally simulate PANTONE colors using expanded gamut process. OPALTONE is already available in Inkjet & Digital (HP Indigo)

    The limitation is CMYK (not Designers or CPC’s thirst for clean oranges, greens & deep blues). They will never give up their iconic corporate colors. Moving packaging from analog to digital doesn’t in anyway mean sacrificing spot colors. Cost-effective expanded gamut printing is the new norm.

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