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Ask a Smartpress Expert: Pantone Color Charts and Color Conversion

by Jill Alfano | September 9, 2013

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Smartpress offers some spot colors for certain types of projects but doesn’t have all the specific colors that I need. Is there any way for you to print my spot colors with the standard CMYK process?

The short answer is: Yes! But to get to how Smartpress can do that, it is important to explain how spot color is vastly different from the types of inks used.

How Spot Color is Different

Smartpress, like many online printing services, is a digital printer that uses CMYK color model printing processes. With the subtractive CMYK process, we can create nearly any color you’d like using just four ink colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. It’s the combination of these four hues printed on the paper that results in the thousands of colors that we create on our presses.

Spot color printing is quite a different process. Spot colors were invented for lithographic printing, a method where ink is specially mixed to create specific colors that will be applied to the paper. So if you wanted, for example, a kelly green logo, kelly green ink of the exact hue you desire would be printed on the paper (instead of using cyan, magenta, yellow and black to create that color). When printing with spot color on a lithographic press, you’re producing extremely precise colors.

However, though spot colors are very accurate, they’re also very expensive. The human eye can perceive thousands of colors and there could be a spot color for each one. To try to keep all of those variations of ink on-hand would not only be cost prohibitive but would take up a lot of space and end up being a waste of colors that are used infrequently or not at all. For this reason, most printing is done using a CMYK four color press.

Ask a Smartpress.com Expert: Pantone Color Charts and Color Conversion

Pantone Color Reference Charts.

There is a way to work with CMYK to produce most spot colors. Using our four color process, we can reproduce many spot colors, all specifically from the Pantone Matching System. However, there are some limitations, such as brighter Pantone colors, fluorescents, and metallic-looking inks, that we cannot recreate.

How to Match Pantone Colors with CMYK at Smartpress

Smartpress offers Pantone CMYK Reference Charts for simple color matching and PMS-to-CMYK color conversions. These charts will show you Pantone colors that have been printed using our CMYK process so you know what to expect. Pantone Reference Charts are available through the Sample Request Page. These charts are free, just pay for shipping.

It’s worth noting that these charts work for our small format printing presses. For a large format project (large posters, hanging banners, car magnets, etc.), request a custom quoted special order for color matching Pantone colors.


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