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Spot Color vs CMYK for Packaging Design – Which One’s Better?

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Stampa Prints

April 1, 2024

When designing custom-branded packaging, there are a variety of acronyms that you need to know.

PMS (or spot color) is the most widely used system for matching colors across multiple industries and materials.

CMYK, on the other hand, stands for cyan, magenta, and yellow, and black as dark pigment ink or key color.

You can make your project more interesting by using spot colors. They are great for projects that only need a few hues on one surface, like when you are printing a logo.

Not only does it save time applying color in one stroke, but it ensures its reproduction is precise too. In fact, if you are using Pantone colors, then there is even an option to use metallic and neon shades along with pastel ones as well.

However, color models can be difficult to navigate, but the correct color strategy is vital for successful packaging business.

This article will explore the strong and weak points of both the printing processes and identity which one is better for packaging design.

What is CMYK Color Printing?

The CMYK system was created to produce photo-realistic images. CMYK is a color model that represents the four colors used in printing processes: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black). It is also called “subtractive” because you start with white paper and mix these primary colored layers of ink together until they form black or key, which is lighter than any other color on the page.

When printing something on the packaging, thousands of little dots are used to create the colors. These individual tiny color dots blend together when looked at from far away so that they appear as one solid color.

With these four base colors (CMYK), almost any other possible hue can be obtained by mixing them in various amounts or adding black ink for darkening.

The Pantone Corporation has released a CMYK Guide in recognition that many prints are done using four colors-cyan, magenta, yellow and black; this new guide illustrates 2,868 different process colors corresponding values, making it easier than ever before.

The CMYK color printing is generally the most common in the industry, but there are also other options. The SEVEN process adds orange, green, and violet to create more accurate colors for printing purposes. However, printing with seven colors is more expensive and not frequently used for packaging.

What is Spot Color Screen Printing?

The Pantone Matching System or PMS or spot color is the world’s most used color matching system in the printing industry. When designing a logo, product packaging, advertising material that needs to match consistently no matter where it’s printed, use colors from this premixed palette of standardized and accurate hues for consistent results every time.

Pantone colors are carefully categorized and sorted into one of two categories: coated or uncoated.

  • Coated Paper: Coated paper is typically used for high-quality printing to ensure that the prints come out sharp. It’s also often preferred by people who need premium packaging, such as custom rigid boxes or custom folding carton boxes.
  • Uncoated Paper: Uncoated paper absorbs more ink than coated papers, so it is great to have a rustic look such as in the pages of novels or when you are looking for something old fashioned.We can print using Pantone U on uncoated paper for Kraft boxes, and with anything else, we would use Pantone C.

CMYK VS Spot Color

Points of AssessmentCMYKSpot Color
Usage of spot colorNoYes
Color RangeVersatileMore versatile than CMYK
Accessible to common userYesNo
Usage of process colorYesNo
Suggested Usage
  • For illustration and real-life pictures
  • Can be used for shipping label and for the formation of logos.
  • For branding purposes
  • It can be used to have colors like neon, it cannot be accomplished with CMYK

Spot Color or CMYK- Which One is Best for Packaging?

CMYK is an incredible color system because it enables you to render virtually any color. However, CMYK offers its own setup challenges, such as not being able to match perfectly with Pantone and having less predictable results than they do when printed out from a computer screen onto paper.

On the other hand, Pantone colors are limited in number, which can be problematic if your printing press cannot print a certain shade of blue or red.

Despite these differences between CMKY and Pantone coloring systems, there really isn’t much difference for you to decide upon: both works well enough that whichever one suits your needs.

Important Things to Take into Consideration

The first thing to determine when printing your materials is how they will be printed. There are two main processes for making a print: digital and traditional offset or flexographic. If you’re using an offset printer, the colors that it can use depend on what substrate (paper) is used.

Digital printers need software that translates images into codes which then transfer onto a substrate in either process; whether those codes correspond with CMYK depends on whether you’re using inkjet or toner technology–in either case, cyan-magenta-yellow combinations give rise to black tones of color.

Know Your Printing Process

How do you know which type of printing process your packaging will be printed on? What if it’s a CMYK or PMS color situation, rather than just black and white ink? Luckily there are some easy ways to find out.

Flexographic printers use four-color CMYK inks for their images, while digital presses typically only utilize the cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black) colors with laser technology. An offset press can also employ these four colors but may have an expanded range that includes Pantone as well.

With Pantone inks being used for printing, you must think about the colors as well. If your art file is going to be printed with a specific PMS color, then it needs to use those colors from that point forward.

Pantone ink production does require more attention on one’s part than CMYK or regular prints because this process relies on four individual processes: cyan (blue), magenta (pink/purple), yellow and black.

Most Stampa Prints customers who order custom-printed packaging using Pantone inks translate their artwork into Pantone’s before they are sent off for print.

Make an Informed Decision

Selecting the correct PMS color tones to match your customer’s needs can be a daunting task. You may have given this some thought by now, but if not, you should give it consideration and plan accordingly so that everything comes out as expected.

If you were responsible for selecting colors in an art file or know what type of print job is going on, then call your packaging providers out during proofing stages with printers because they will need these specifications when printing digitally.

The Final Takeaway

For packaging printing, the choice between spot color and CMYK is a decision that should not be made impulsively.

The two models offer different benefits depending on what type of printer you’re using: for example, if your box will have glossy finishes, then logo colors are better suited to use as high-quality images in this format than with an inkjet printer which requires more layers to print evenly across all sides.

Before making any decisions about which one would work best for your specific product’s needs, take some time to read our article.