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How Do You Color Your Labels?

Spot color or full color? What do those terms even mean? What method should you use? Which process is better? A picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s how the same basic label could look when created using spot colors and full color. You can click on the image to see more details. As you can see, the spot color label (top) has three ink colors, plus the white of the label material. Each color is separate from the others; there is no blending. The full-color label (bottom) looks more like a photograph, with color variations and shading.

Spot Colors

With spot colors, you are typically limited to choosing one, two or three single colors, although there are some cases in which you may use an unlimited number of colors – if you don’t mind the price. Generally 1-3 colors are well within the affordable range; higher numbers of spot colors increase the complexity of the print job. With spot printing, the pre-mixed colors are all confined to their sections of the image. There is no blending of colors, although color gradients are possible (same orange, half as bold, for instance). We generally use spot color printing for text and simple graphics, especially when one or more of the colors must be an exact shade. Pantone colors are always the same, so PMS 348 will be the same shade of green on this print run as it was on the last one. This makes spot colors the best choice for things like logos

Use the spot color process when:

  • You don’t need the label to look like a photograph
  • You need an exact match for a particular color (on a corporate logo, for instance)
  • You want bright, vivid colors, or need specialty inks like fluorescents or metallics

Our short-run industrial labels quoter shows a sample list of our standard spot colors – be sure to click the “View More Colors” button to see the complete list. For many of our labels, you can enter a Pantone shade if the color you want is not one of our standard ones.

Full Color

CMYK example
Process or full color printing is a little more complex and uses all four main printing colors – Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow (Y), and Black (K) – so it is also referred to as CMYK printing. The four colors are blended together in varying ratios to create the printed piece. Dots in the four colors overlap each other in a way calculated to create the image desired. If you look at the close-up image here (magnified many times), you can see the different dots used in the four color process. Without magnification, this egg carton appears as a high-quality photographic image.

You’ll want to use full-color printing to reproduce a color photograph on your label or if you need the label to have a certain depth of field. The color can vary from print job to print job, because the four color process is a mix of dots, and that mix cannot be exactly replicated each time. Some bright colors can be difficult to create with CMYK. With the growth of digital printing, the four-color process has become more economical. See our Process Color labels page for more details.

Prefer a Video Description?

Check out our Youtube video for a quick visual explanation of a bumper sticker, done in both spot and full color.

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