Many clients require Pantone colors, but they do not understand what they are and what they are useful for. It must be stated that a real Pantone ink makes no sense in a digital print, in which printers use four classic inks: cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK), just like a normal desk printer or a laser printer does. In some cases, printers have intermediate inks (they can be gray, light cyan, light magenta, light yellow, red) to enhance the quality, especially for degrades, but it is all based in the tracing of small dots for the human eye to see. The digital print works just as a desk printer does and it always has the four basic inks.
Instead, the offset printing is different. This is a summary, but it will help you to understand how it works. An offset printer, prints on several passes. In each pass, a specific ink is charged and that design is added to the paper. That design can be traced (these are larger or smaller dots, depending on the intensity that is desired) or it can be solid. We are going to analyze when solid or traced methods are used.
When printing a monochromatic brochure (for example only black, the print house only replenishes in one single pass (solid). Each region of the plaque implies a charge of ink, with which different tones of ink are accomplished and it generates more colors and it makes them less strong. A pass of black ink generates regions without ink, which will remain of the paper’s color, intermediate regions that generate gray areas of different intensity and regions with 100% ink, which will be completely black. If one would see this print at a large scale, it would be impossible to see a point or any trace at all: it is completely solid and it appears to have better quality. The ink will not always be black: if the printing house wants to print a red colored brochure, it can prepare a red ink, charge it on the printer and use the same plaque. The printing that is done in one color, is basically a stamp filled with ink, applied to a sheet of paper.
If the printing house needs to print a brochure, whose design has two colors (for example, yellow and blue) and the design does not require that the yellow and blue color overlap, the same operation can be repeated. The printing house will say that it is a “two colored” print, but in the reality it is referring to “two inks” or “two passes”. The printing house will prepare two plaques and the two yellow and blue inks by mixing the basic inks that it has at its disposal (CMYK), a color manual that will tell you how that proportion will be mixed and the adjustment on mere sight that the color technician at the printing house will add to it. The yellow ink will then be added to the printer, the primary plaque will be placed and it will print the first pass. Then those yellow printed brochures will be taken and the blue ink will be added to the printer, the plaque will be changed and it will provide the two colored look. As long as the printed areas on each plaque do not overlap, there will be no conflicts. If they do overlap, the color will be a mix of both and it will be difficult to know the result. Contrary to a general belief, the overlapping will not create green, but a rare color, were the darkest color dominates and is the last to be passed. For this reason, and in general, printing houses do not overlap solid colors.
But if the design required both colors overlapping each other to achieve a third color (in the last example, to create a green color), the design needs to be traced. In the traced format, the areas are made of points with different inks that when printed very close together from each other (even overlapping each other), they create a new color to the human eye. You can do an experiment by printing small blue and yellow colored dots on a piece of paper and placing it far enough so that you cannot see the dots. Your eyes will see that the sheet of paper is green.
Let’s elevate the complexity of the last “traced “case. If you use the four basic inks (CMYK) overlapping each other, it is possible to create all of the colors that we usually see when printing. This is called “full color” or “four colors” and they can be seen with a magnifying glass in any print. It is basically the use of small dots of these four inks in a particular tram, which are capable of generating all colors. When a brochure‘s design includes a photo with “real” colors, the use of this technique is always required. The use of solid colors for printing a photograph would be virtually impossible.
At this point, the offset printing houses will determine, according to the design and the use of it, how many “passes” will be made and the inks that will be used in each “pass”. The more “passes” and inks that are required, the higher the cost will be, which is why it is best to try and make the least passes possible.
For this reason, a one color brochure is a lot more economic than a two colored one, which will be more economic than a four colored one. The variation in cost has nothing to do with the type of paper or with the quantity of ink that will be used, but with the preparations that the printing house needs to do in each pass (preparing the ink, the plaque, aligning them, etc).
The majority of professional brochures include photographs and a great quantity of colors in their design, which forces the printing house to print in full color or traced cuatricomia with the four basic types of inks (CMYK), as we have described above.
Now things get a little more complicated. Large businesses require maintaining the same color on all of their prints, in order to generate a cohesive identity, as we have discussed above as well. When these businesses print something, they usually use different printing houses in different places. The problem is that the adjustment and equipment in each printing house varies and the consequences are that the colors that can be seen in the final product will also vary in the small ink dots that are made.
Let’s imagine a design of a brochure with a “real” picture above and a corporative color, let’s say English green below. The above picture, forces us to use full color, where an English green color can also be printed below. However, the brochure from each printing house will look different due to the CMYK inks that were used, the adjustment of the equipment, etc. In general, photographs are not the problem, but the corporative colors are. Imagine placing two brochures beside each other and seeing that the English green color is different. Or placing the brochure besides a folder, or a product package and noticing that the color is not the same.
The first solution for this problem would be, to make a fifth pass at the printing house (an additional one to the four CMYK. In this fifth pass, an ink prepared with a special composition will be used (always made from the CMYK inks that the printing house has at its disposal) and we would print the bottom part with a complete pass of English green ink. It would be four traced passes and a fifth one based on the English green ink. We could indicate the printing house that the ink should match a sample. If each printing house creates the ink in the same manner, we would always achieve the same color… but sadly, this will not happen. Each printing house creates inks in a very different way, which will cause the difference in colors to be noticed. The human factor must also be added to this, as the color technician who adjusts the inks does it with their sight and the extra costs that printing houses have in adjusting the inks one time and another to make them match with the sample. This partial solution is the one most printing houses use when they require a “Pantone” color. With this Pantone code, they will be able to create an ink that looks almost the same, taking into account what the composition of a manual says and the adjustments that the color technician makes with their sight. But this is NOT a Pantone ink.
To solve this problem completely, the Pantone inks were invented. The Pantone inks, are inks that are purchased at the Pantone Company, which assure a unique color all of the time. However, in most cases, printing houses do not use them because of their costs and logistics and they end up using mixed inks, which DOES NOT guarantee the real Pantone color.