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Graphic design glossary: printing

I was discussing a brochure with a client once, and talk turned to printing.

“We could get this printed two-color,” I said, “Or four-color, but that would be more.”

“Oh,” said the client. “I’d like all the colors.”

Of course, any print designer knows four-color is “all the colors,” but the jargon was so ingrained I didn’t think beyond it. For those who aren’t versed in print terminology, here are some terms that designers use that might need some ‘splainin’.

One-color, two-color, four-color, more

When talking color printing, traditional terminology is broken down into the number of colors used. One-color is just that, a job involving one color, often black. It’s least expensive, usually, unless your one color is metallic gold or something like that. Two-color can be either black and a color, or two colors, which are speced using the Pantone color system. In these days of digital printing, two-color isn’t as cost-saving as it might have once been. It can still shave some dollars off of a large project. If you have a creative and skilled designer, she can do a number of things within that 2-color constraint, like using duotones on photographs, and using screens to expand the appearance of two colors. Four-color, despite what my client thought, is traditional full-color printing. It’s called four-color because it uses four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) to achieve the appearance of a full range of color.

If you’re specing these colors for a printer, you may see this notation: 1/0, 4/4, 4/1, etc. The first number is the number of colors printed on the front. The second number is the number of colors printed on the back. 1/0 means one-color on the front and no colors on the back. 4/4 would be full color, front and back.

Beyond four-color printing

I mentioned the Pantone color system before. Pantone is the company that creates the color specing materials printers and designers use to communicate color. As well as specing out all many of single colors, they also spec special colors, like metallics and neons. These colors are out of gamut for four-color printing, and need to be added on press as a fifth color (or sixth). In fact, there’s a print process called hexachrome, which increases the gamut of colors on press by adding a green and an orange ink. Traditional four-color printing doesn’t hit every color (I’m looking at you, greens), and printing in hexachrome creates incredible and vibrant colors. It’s like HD on the page.

In summary

One-color: printing in just one color, often black

Two-color: printing in two colors and speced using the Pantone color matching system

Four-color: printing in the traditional four colors of the print world: cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

CMYK: the shorthand for the four colors of the printing world: cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y) and black (K)

Pantone color matching system: the system created by the Pantone corporation that allows printers and designers to match up colors

Hexachome: printing in six colors: cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y), black (K), orange (O) and green (G)

Gamut: the range of colors that can be achieved by a particular color system. A color that can be mixed is in gamut, while one that cannot be matched is out of gamut.

Image from Pixabay.com

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