So, you want to buy some pocket folders to help with marketing your small business. Should be simple enough. You want some paper and you want some stuff printed on that paper. That’s all there is to it. How complicated can it be? If you have done any shopping for printed products, you have no doubt been left wondering why these darned printing companies insist on making things so complicated?
While there certainly can be many complexities involved in the printing process, there really is no excuse for making the purchase process so complicated and confusing. Sure, it is easier to go that route but this is not best for the customer. You probably don’t care how it gets done, you just want the finished product to match your expectations.
However, there are a few areas where a little basic knowledge in print design can go a long way in helping you get the right product for the job. One of those areas is whether you should go with Pantone or process color. First, we need to go over what each is and then we will give some design tips to help you make an informed decision.
The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is the definitive international reference for selecting, specifying, matching and controlling ink colors. The Pantone formula guide, a three guide set consisting of 1,114 solid Pantone Colors on coated, uncoated and matte stock, shows corresponding printing ink formulas for each color. The three-book set of solid chips provides coated, uncoated and matte perforated tear-out chips that can be used for quality control. You may purchase a Pantone swatch book online or your local art store may carry them. Each ink color is assigned a PMS number and is created using a specific formula. When a commercial printer uses Pantone colors, they buy that specific ink and load it into their printing press.
Process color (aka 4-color process, full-color process or CMYK) is a blend of 4 standard ink colors; Cyan, magenta, yellow and black. These are printer’s primaries and can be combined to create the majority of visible ink colors. Process color is used on a press that is 4-color or more and the four individual inks are loaded into the printing press.
Now that we know what each is, which is best for your particular print project?
Pantone is generally used where a logo needs to be printed in exact “company” colors. For example, Coca-Cola uses a signature red. If they printed in process color, the red may come out slightly different each time. This could lead to one bottle of Coke looking different than the bottle on the shelf next to it. If color is part of your branding (as is often the case with larger corporations), you’ll want to use specific PMS colors to ensure the colors remain consistent every time you print. This will also be the case if you are a perfectionist.
Pantone is also critical for projects using “full coverage” or “heavy coverage” which refers to the percentage of the page covered by ink. If you are printing a solid red background, you are best served using a PMS red. A press operator using 4 color process would need to apply 100% magenta to ensure your red comes out solid. In doing so, it is likely everything else on the page would take on a slightly pinkish appearance. Finally, metallic ink, such as silver or gold, and neon or fluorescent ink can only be created using Pantone colors.
Process color is necessary for photographs and highly complex images. Very rarely are jobs printed with more than 5 PMS colors, typically 1 to 3 colors. Printing presses are limited in the number of inks they can use at one time and higher quantities of Pantone colors can be cost prohibitive. While 4-color process can be very cost-efficient, the buyer must beware! You may have noticed that many online printing companies offer extremely low pricing on 4-color work while others charge much more. Why the difference? You just want cheap, right? Well, maybe not!
These low-cost printing companies do what is called “gang-run” printing. Basically this means they run a large number of jobs at the same time using a large printing press. This can work well for jobs which are not overly color-sensitive. However, because all of the jobs are run at the same time, there is no individual attention paid to each project. Therefore some colors may look muted, whereas others may come out with the wrong hue. If you want to produce high-quality photographic work, you need to go to a printer who is going to run your job by itself and can control the color on press to make sure the final product meets your standards. This will be more expensive than a gang-run company, but the results are worth it. Don’t you think?
Image Credit: foxtwo