Pantone spots and metallics – a guide on when (and when not) to use them

When our customers ask whether litho printing with Pantone colours or digital printing using CMYK colours will give them the best results, we always say the answer depends. It’s all about what you’re printing on, how much you’re printing and how you want your finished product to look.

Making the right choice of printing type, colours and paper shouldn’t be too complex, and we’re here to help. Read this quick and simple guide on when and when not to use Pantone spots and metallics to help you make the right choice every time.

The colour difference between Pantone and CMYK

CMYK printing uses four colours – Cyan (blue), Magenta, Yellow and Black (key plate). Colours are made by layering them together using a structured pattern of dots to create the full range needed.

CMYK works very effectively for multi-colour photographs and text, but it can’t recreate the vibrancy you see on screen or in printed materials produced using Pantone colours. Also, it may lose consistency as different printers might print out the same CMYK colours with differing results.

Pantone colours are a great way of achieving brand consistency as it is a universally recognised colour matching system, with a massive 1,867 spot colours achievable from 14 base colours. Having exactly the right shade can be critical for brand consistency over many substrates and products.

As well as standard spot colours, Pantone have metallic and fluorescent ranges that can be used alone or mixed with other Pantone shades, giving even more choice for an outstanding quality finish with a difference.

Where Pantone spots and metallics work best

There are certain print jobs where using Pantone spots and metallics will really enhance a product. Consider using spot colours when:

  • Your design uses only one or two colours, and has no full-colour photos
  • You need a colour that might not be accurately recreated with CMYK, and you must have precise matching for something like a company logo
  • Your printed material has many pages and you need to make sure a colour appears consistently throughout
  • You need a big area of a colour printed, such as a poster, and need a smooth, solid, even coverage
  • You’re using a vibrant colour such as red or orange that Pantone reproduces more effectively than CMYK – certain shades are not achievable from the CMYK mix
  • You want to use special finishes such as metallic gold, silver, bronze or copper ink
  • You require a large quantity – Pantone colours cannot be used on digital presses so are only suitable for litho printing where longer print runs are more cost effective

Where your design uses full-colour photographs, multi-colour graphics, or when you need to use more than two spot colours, it will almost always make more economic sense to use process colours such as CMYK.

Think about budget and delivery date

Cost will start to mount up if using multiple Pantone colours as each will need mixing. For smaller print runs we would mix in-house by hand (see video below of us mixing a rose gold metallic pantone) or for longer print runs with heavy coverage we would buy the ink in ready mixed from one of our suppliers. It is quite common to print one, two or three Pantones together on company stationery and despite what you may read about the decline in demand we are still printing with Pantone colours daily. Our record for number of Pantone colours printed on a single order is 15!

Although not encouraged, we have had incidences where we have been requested to formulate a mix ourselves as there is no Pantone number that is accurate. This is a time consuming process, but can be done.

Consider a touch of luxury

Where Pantone spots and metallics really come into their own is when you’re trying to make a statement of quality or add a touch of luxury to your printing that your customers will appreciate.

Stationery sets and business cards, company brochures and ‘cut to shape’ products for retail packaging will all have an additional wow factor if printed using spot colours. You can enhance this effect with a wider choice of paper weights and a range of materials including card and plastics.

Get the best quality for print

We pride ourselves on working with you from start to finish to make sure your final product is the best quality – including the choice of colours, approach and printing methods. Even if you don’t know the best ways to use Pantone spots and metallics to make your product stand out, we do.

Get in touch and speak to our knowledgeable and experienced team at KMS Litho.