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Color, Ink, and Coatings in Print Projects

Color and Ink

CMYK: CMYK is short for Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black, and is normally pronounced as separate letters. CMYK is a color model in which all colors in the printed piece are described as a mixture of these four process colors. CMYK is the standard color model used in offset printing for full-color documents & produces full photographic color. Because this printing uses inks of these four basic colors, it is often called four color printing.

PANTONE® MATCHING SYSTEM (PMS): A standard color-matching system used for printing spot colors (see below). A PMS color is a standard color defined by percentage mixtures of different inks.

Most applications that support color printing allow you to specify colors by indicating the Pantone name or number. This assures that you get the right color when the file is printed, even though the color may not look right when displayed on your monitor.

A spot color refers to a method of specifying and printing colors in which each color is printed with its own ink. Spot color printing is effective when the printed matter contains one to three different colors, but it becomes prohibitively expensive for more colors.

RGB: Display devices (computer monitors, for example) generally use a different color model called RGB, which stands for Red-Green-Blue. RGB images are primarily used for screen display (websites, powerpoint presentations, etc.). For offset printing, all artwork should be converted from RGB to CMYK or spot colors (PMS colors).

Print Coatings

Aqueous Coating: Like its name suggests, aqueous coating is water-based. Aqueous coating is more environmentally friendly than other coatings and is used for an overall coating.

Lamination: The ultimate in protection, film lamination forms a strong, protective layer of plastic to the printed sheet. Usually available in gloss and matte finishes.

Varnish: Varnish is essentially ink without pigment/color. It is applied as another ink color on the press.

A Note about coatings:

  • Use coatings to avoid fingerprinting, scuffing, smudging or cracking on glossy paper stock.
  • Some coatings deepen the ink color they cover, yellow with age and/or may discolor white paper.
  • You cannot glue or foil stamp over some coatings.
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