Spot Colour Printing Explained

Spot Colour and CMYK comparison

With the introduction of screen printed T-shirts to our product catalogue, we require some artwork files to contain spot colours for the first time. To better understand this printing process, we enlisted the help of our in-house expert, Robbie Coster.

Robbie is a Pre-Press Studio Operative who has been with Tradeprint for 15 months. He has a good technical knowledge of file setup and artwork requirements as his day to day role includes assisting customers with their artwork and checking these files before sending to the printing presses. Prior to joining Tradeprint, he worked in the t-shirt printing trade for 9 years and is therefore our resident specialist on t-shirts, screen printing and spot colours!

Robbie Coster

What is a spot colour?

A spot colour is simply a solid colour. The spot colour ink is pre-mixed using a set of base colours to ensure consistency in colour reproduction.

What is spot colour printing?

Spot colour printing is where individual colours are printed using a screen plate or pad in a single pass. This is different to process printing, where CMYK inks are layered on four passes, one per colour, to create a vast spectrum of colour.

Although we use spot colour inks for our screen printing only, they can be used in litho printing.

What is the difference between spot colours and CMYK colours?

The main difference is in their use in the printing process. As mentioned, spot colours are pre-mixed inks that are applied in a single pass whereas CMYK inks are layered on four passes to mix the correct colour. This is due to CMYK inks being transparent so they interact with each other. Spot colour inks, however, are opaque and won't interact and we therefore can't accept gradients or overlapping colours in T-shirt artwork files.

Spot colours are used almost universally. The Pantone Matching System spot colours we use to screen print our t-shirt range are used across Europe and the USA. This means whether a t-shirt is printed in Europe or USA, the output will contain the same colour. Also, when you are dealing with clients, you are both talking from the same colour system. If you have a Pantone book, you can show them an accurate representation of the colour before going to print too!

Spot Colours and CMYK comparison

When to use spot colours

We accept spot colours for our screen printed t-shirts only. You should continue to use CMYK colours for all other printed items, such as business cards, flyers, leaflets, signs and posters. We are likely to accept spot colours for new additions to our Clothing and Textiles range as we grow this product range.

What are the benefits of spot colours?

Spot colours are typically used in screen printing. They provide an exact match and are therefore a great choice when you want perfect colour reproduction across different materials and substrates.

Where else are spot colours used?

Spot colours can be found in some interesting places! We use a Spot Varnish to create the glossy finish on our Spot UV Business Cards. You can see a pattern on bank notes when you place them under a UV light, these counterfeiting procedures use spot colours too.

Spot colour artwork setup

Setting up your artwork files for spot colours is easier than you might think. Keep your colour setting as CMYK and use the swatches available in the colour library within the colour palette. These are Pantone colours. Please note, we use Pantone coated colours.

The screenshots below show how you can access Pantone colours in Adobe Illustrator and InDesign.

Spot colours in Illustrator

Spots Colours in Illustrator

Spot colours in InDesign

Spot Colours in InDesign

Spot Colours in InDesign

Screen printed T-shirts are the first of our new Clothing and Textiles range. Click the button below to browse the range now.

Buy screen printed T-shirts here

2 Comments on “Spot Colour Printing Explained”

  1. Given the variety of work you produce, do you Contract Out ANY processes,
    or are they ALL done In House.

    Also is it possible to have a photo (scan) printed on a garment by you ?

    I am a new client !!

    1. Hi Derek,

      Thanks for getting in contact and we hope you are happy with your new purchases.

      Our website integrates with our parent company Cimpress’ Mass Customisation Platform, which allows it to connect to its worldwide network of manufacturing plants and utilise the group’s full capabilities and add new products to its offering. If we are at capacity, we out-source internally as its under the cimpress umbrella corporation.

      Regarding printing a photo (scan) on garments, we offer both screen and full colour t shirts in a range of long and short sleeve:

      Let me know if that helps.

      Many Thanks

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