The CMYK Printing Process
The CMYK printer process is also known as the four-color or full-color process. The initials stand for cyan, magenta, yellow and key. In traditional printing the key color is the one that all the other colors are aligned to, typically black. These inks are laid down on the paper in varying proportions to create a range of colors and shades.
Traditional printing uses metal plates that apply one color of ink at a time. The key color, black, is applied first, with colors applied one after the other: cyan first, then magenta, and finally yellow. Color copiers and color printers apply all four colors almost simultaneously, in one pass.
The Difference Between Pantone & CMYK
Graphic designers must understand the differences between Pantone colors and process colors created with CMYK. How a job will be printed determines which color method to use.
Pantone colors are used for spot color printing. CMYK is used for full color process printing. Pantone colors are pre-mixed ink colors, while full color process creates colors and images through overlapping various proportions of cyan, magenta, yellow and black.
Spot colors are chosen from the Pantone Matching System (PMS) color swatch book which contains hundreds of specific Pantone colors.
When separated into plates for the printer, every image or text that is of the same Pantone color is contained on one plate. If there are two Pantone colors plus black, there will be three plates. CMYK jobs contain four plates (cyan, magenta, yellow and black).
Pantone colors are more vibrant and accurate and tend to present a crisper, graphic quality. CMYK allows more color possibilities, but a poor print job or color mixture can result in duller, less accurate colors.
Pantone colors are used for commercial print jobs normally printed in one, two or three specific colors. CMYK is used in magazine and newspaper publishing and for any print job with full color images.