Spot and process color

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There are two types of color you can run in most publications—spot and process color.

Spot color is used when you want to have one, two, or three single colors of ink in your ad. Most publications offer some standard spot colors such as red, blue, and yellow. Of course, you can also request a custom color—to match a corporate logo, for example—but the ink will have to be specially formulated and usually involves an additional charge.

An example of spot color

Process color is used when you need a wide range of colors in your ad, such as when you're reproducing a color photograph. Instead of pre-mixing the different colors, the printing press lays down four standard inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) in different combinations to produce the various colors.

An example of process color

Prior to printing, process color ads need to be separated into their cyan, magenta, yellow, and black components, for which many publications charge an additional fee on top of the considerable process color fee.

Also, don't assume that since you're paying for process color and the additional separation charges that you'll actually get accurate color. Not all publications have the experience and equipment to reproduce color properly, and even those that do can't always overcome the inherent limitations of CMYK color.

So now let's talk about how to choose the right colors.

Next: Which colors are best?


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