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Colour and Print Processes

Have you ever walked into a printers and thought ‘I don’t have a clue what I’m looking at, or need’ well here we can help. Here are some common print processes and colours.


Four colour process (CMYK)

The four colour process is made up of four ink colours, Cyan (a light blue), Magenta (pink/purple), Yellow and Key (black) or more commonly seen as CMYK. Why is black named ‘Key’? Well it’s the ‘Key Plate’ which all the other plates line up with. Four colour process printing is the most commonly used process and you will most likely find it in your printer at home.


Six colour printing

This is an emerging method which adds orange and green to the usual CMYK inks for a more vibrant colour range, also knows as a gamut. However, such alternate colour systems rely on colour separation, just like the four colour process to produce printed images.


Pantone colours

A pantone colour is a system of over 1200 standard colours developed by Pantone Inc. Pantones are used by companies who want the exact same colour everytime it’s used and avoids alterations in colours. Pantone’s developed colours have a specific number assigned to them, so if you went into a print shop and asked for that pantone colour (providing they use Pantone) they would be able to find the exact match. Because there are so many Pantones you can often find the exact colour you use in the swatches pallet.


Screen printing

Screen printing is a method that ink is forced on to the surface through a prepared screen of fine material that creates a picture or pattern. This method is commonly used to print onto t-shirts. Screen printing is block colour only and gradients cannot be achieved for screen printing, so simple vector artwork is best.


Digital printing

Digital printing is when an image is sent directly to the printer using digital files such as a PDF or JPG. This eliminates the need for a printing plate, which is used in offset printing, which can save money and time. Digital printing has allowed for fast turnaround times and printing on demand. Digital printing is mostly used for smaller runs of print.


Offset printing

Offset printing is commonly used in large print companies and large print runs. This method is a technique whereby ink is spread onto a metal plate, which the artwork is etched on to, then transferred to another surface such as a rubber blanket, and finally applied to paper by pressing the paper against the intermediary surface. Although the equipment and set-up costs are relatively high, the actual printing process is relatively inexpensive.


Lithography printing

Lithography is mainly used by commercial printing companies that will print thousands of copies of the same item, in one production run. Lithography machines can print on both sides of paper/card and they rely on the CMYK Process.

Both of our design and print offices, in Taunton and Tiverton can help you to discover which process is best for you, so if you’re unsure don’t hesitate to ask.


Emma Fowle :Emma graduated with a degree in design and came to Oxygen straight from college in 2012. She is experienced in design for print and web.