Pantone vs. Process

The process of offset and digital printing has truly become a science, particularly when it comes to color. One of the biggest challenges in printing is getting the colors just right. Basically, any type of printing that includes a full color photograph will require process printing.  Process printing utilizes a mix of the four CMYK colors; Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black.  Printing requirements where only one or two colors are required, such as business stationery, typically is printed utilizing Pantone Colors.

In the past, process color has typically been more expense, particularly if utilizing the offset printing method, where 4 pieces of film, plates, and inks would be required to print the job. For this reason, one, two, and sometimes three color jobs would utilize Pantone colors, specific colors that are an exact match to a Pantone numbering system that is utilized to get the right color match.  With the advent of digital printing, which primarily uses the 4 color process method, some of the rules have changed. Now when making decisions as to how a project should be printed, a lot of the decision making is based on the colors you want to match. One limitation with process color is matching certain colors. CMYK mixing is limited as to the colors that can be created from those four colors. You can particularly notice this in the blue range where a lot of times the blues will appear more purplish than they should. For this reason, if no full color photography or graphics are in the printed piece, utilizing a Pantone ink color, say PMS286 will give you the exact match you want.  For large printing jobs, where both 4 color process printing is required, but also Pantone color matching is required to match a company branded color, there are presses that print 5,6,8 or even 10 colors.  Printing on these presses can certainly be expensive if the quantities are small, but on large jobs the cost can be affordable and the quality exceptional.

As a general rule, if color matching is not super critical but overall quality is, then either hi-end digital printing or “gang” offset printing is typically the way to go. Though digital printing has gotten to the point now where it is very difficult to tell the difference, in my opinion offset is still the way to go if the cost is comparable. As mentioned before “gang” printing, which is running several jobs together at once to help keep costs down, is an excellent option.

In conclusion, there are various subtleties when choosing the method by which your project will be printed. You will want to take into consideration the paper color, weight, and finish, as well as grain direction if the job is being folded or scored and if you want any type of coating applied to the finished piece. With the many choices available it is definitely a good idea to sit down with an experienced printer to help you decide how the job should be printed and why.