More and more in our business, customers are requesting multi-color imprints on their items, including 4 color process. Coming from the printing industry, 4C process is old hat to me, but after a few conversations this past week, I realized that the term, 4 Color Process, is pretty foreign to a lot of people. So here’s a real down and dirty explanation:

Spot Color: The printer uses pre-mixed inks which already match your specific PMS color (Pantone Matching System).
4C Process: The printer uses a combination of cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks (CMYK), at varying shades and combinations to create the colors. This type of printing is mainly used to reproduce color photos, but can be used to reproduce any multi-color imprint.
So, why use one over the other? The simple answer is, “It depends.”
Spot color is best to guarantee the closest match to your desired color. However, if you’ve got color photos, graphics with certain graduations, color mixes, multiple colors, or elements that touch, spot color either might not work at all, or be very expensive to use. With spot color imprints, you’ll usually pay a set up charge and run charge for every extra color used. That can really add up if you’ve got an 8 color logo!
4 Color Process is best when you have elements that touch or overlap, complicated or intricate graphics, multiple colors, or need to keep your price more manageable – USUALLY! It all depends on the supplier for the item. Some suppliers have the capability to use digital imprinting. This usually removes additional set up charges and run charges. However, if the supplier uses more traditional printing methods, using plates for every color, 4 color printing can be much more expensive.
So what is the difference between digital printing and traditional printing? Think of digital printing similar to your inkjet printer (though much higher quality). Items printed with this method have the color inks sprayed onto the item, guided by a computer file.
Traditional printing methods require the image to be burned onto printing plates, then those plates mounted to a press which has the inks loaded in fountains. Then the printing is done one pass at a time for each of the 4 process colors. As the inks build up on the item one at a time, the color builds until it’s in it’s final format. As you can imagine, this process takes more time and man hours to produce, plus the materials are costly.
Digital 4C process imprinting is becoming increasingly popular in our industry, but it’s still not widely available. Currently, there only a handful of suppliers that offer it, though more and more are seeing the value in adding it. If you’ve got a multi-color imprint that will need 4C process imprinting, we’ll do our best to find a supplier that can do it, at a reasonable price, and hopefully, on the item you want.

Next time, I’ll try to make sense out of some other printing and color-related issues you might face when imprinting!