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Print Processes - Inks, Spot Varnish, Spot Colours, Laminate

Spot Colours 

In offset printing, a spot color is any color generated by an ink (pure or mixed) that is printed using a single run.
The widely spread offset-printing process is composed of four spot colours:Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (black) commonly referred to as CMYK. More advanced processes involve the use of six spot colours (hexachromatic process), which add Orange and Green to the process (termed CMYKOG). The two additional spot colors are added to compensate for the ineffective reproduction of faint tints using CMYK colors only. However, offset technicians around the world use the term spot color to mean any color generated by a non-standard offset ink; such as metallic, fluorescent, spot varnish, or custom hand-mixed inks.
The dot gain, hence the screen angle and line frequency, of a spot color vary according to its intended purpose. Spot lamination and UV coatings are sometimes referred to as 'spot colors', as they share the characteristics of requiring a separate lithographic film and print run.

Digital Methods

here are various methods to incorporate rather sophisticated patterns of spot colors in the final prepress artwork. Software applications such as InDesign, Illustrator,QuarkXPress and Scribus may generate spot colors as additional channels. Photoshop can also be used to generate soft edges (widely known as feathered edges) of spot colors. The dissolve effect provided by Adobe Photoshop layer patterns can be generated for any spot color.


PANTONE - This is the dominant spot color printing system in the US and Europe.

TOYO - This is a common spot color system used in Japan.

ANPA - This is a palette of 300 colors specified by the 'American Newspapers Publishing Association' for spot color usage in newspapers.

RAL (colour space system) This is a color matching system used in Europe. The so-called RAL CLASSIC system is mainly used for varnish and powder coating. Because each color system creates their own colors from scratch, spot colors from one system may be impossible to find within the library of another.


Adding a Pantone colour to your normal CMYK is a great way of achieving colours which simply are not possible with 4 colour process printing. The example above from the Print Handbook is a great example of this. The Pantone here is a vibrant red which simply wasn't possible using just CMYK inks.

It's also possible to use a metallic or fluorescent ink which CMYK can get nowhere near in impact. It's a great way of adding an extra little something to your project.

Adding an extra colour is not as expensive as you might expect either. Here's a quote from Centreprint for printing 10,000 leaflets. In CMYK they'll cost £317. To add a spot colour would cost an extra £38.
Not bad at all.

One Colour Jobs

If you or your client are on a tight budget then using a Pantone spot colour for a one colour job can be a great way to save money. The same specification as the above quote, but this time printed with just one colour would cost £158.

Examples of Spot Colour

Fluorescent Spot Yellow 

Fluorescent Spot Pink 

V Magazine - Spot Red on B&W

This video shows the process of mixing a PANTONE spot colour for 2 colour printing. 

Spot Varnish

Spot varnishing is used to highlight images with matt or gloss varnish against unvarnished areas, which leads to an enhanced visual impression. Spot varnishing can be done on an IR or UV basis.

Varnish: is essentially a clear ink that can be applied in a variety of thicknesses over print. On the most basic level it improves the durability of your print, preventing the ink from rubbing off and keeping the paper or card from wrinkling or tearing, but as we’ll see below it can also be used to achieve some awesome visual and textural effects.

Finish: is any effect that’s applied to your print after it’s been produced. That could be an all over varnish, a spot varnish, foil-blocking, or die-cuts (all of which I’m sure we’ll get to in a later post!)

Spot: is used to indicate that a finish is only going to be applied to certain areas(or spots) of the total printed area.

UV: is the thickest varnish available, and is most often used to make your print look really glossy and vivid.

Spot UV is a high-gloss finish applied to a specific area of your print, as in the example below:

what we’ve got here is a piece of packaging that’s been printed on a matt varnished card stock before having a Spot UV varnish applied over part of the logo. As you can see, it creates a striking balance between the main body of the box and the logo which instantly grabs the eye. For simple images like this applying a Spot UV varnish can be a great way of increasing the visual impact of your print.

Advantages of Spot UV

  • Instant visual impact
  • Multi-sensory impact – touch as well as look. 
  • Adds vibrancy to the colours of, for example, a company logo
  • Creates an impression in the mind of your audience that you’re a little bit different, rather than a generic company.

Spot Varnish Examples

Tends to work well black on black. 


Laminating is the gluing of paper, foil or cloth onto carton board or other carrier materials. Laminating is a finishing technique with boundless possibilities for application. For instance, the laminating of plastic foil results in maximum gloss and certain barrier properties. Using foils with structured surfaces can achieve interesting optical effects. Laminating tinfoil onto carton board enhances the impression of value, while laminating paper onto corrugated board achieves high mechanical strength.

Product examples

Novelty foil - Used for small single chocolates or sweets, manufactured using unsupported 8mic-12mic aluminium.

Chocolate Bar / Butter Wraps - Plain or printed aluminium foil laminated using either glue/wax to a variety of substrates.

Examples of Laminate

Title: Bespoek press pack
Client: Savvy
Materials: Paper over board
Processes: Litho print, laminate, make up

Title: Custom foam
Client: Accept & Proceed
Materials: HD Foam, carton board
Processes: Routing, digital print, laminate, UV varnish

Title:Luxury packaging tubes 
Client: Clive Christian
Materials: Litho prtnted stock over board, HD foam
Processes:Litho print, laminate , foil block, deboss

Comments for this entry

Amelia Davis

Really inspiring stuff!!! This post is fantastic, and equally fantastic is this conversation thread. This information regarding printers and different category of printers & its machinary is so inspiring! Awesome Work. Keep it Up!
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