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Designing for the 4-Color Print Process

What is the 4-color printing process? What are the benefits of designing your custom professional binders using 4-color versus spot color? Get answers to these question and more below.

If your company is in the market for custom printed binders and you want to ensure they are professional, attractive and modern, choosing to incorporate color can be a huge benefit. However, basic color won’t give you the POW you’re looking for—for that, you’ll want to use the 4-color process.

Why use the 4-color process?

If you’re just printing text, using a normal color printing option is likely sufficient; however, if you’re looking to incorporate full-color photographs or graphics, then the 4-color process is really your only option. In fact, the 4-color process is the only imprint method that allows for color photographs to print out correctly without much color quality loss.

color palette: Binders Inc. Binder Design and Branding Article

One thing you may notice when using the 4-color process is that the colors found in your design may have slightly different tones from what you’re used to. Luckily, because of the often highly detailed quality of the graphics and/or illustrations, you may not even notice the change. However, you may notice a loss of vibrancy in graphic elements (including solid colored elements).

How to decide whether the 4-color process is right for your project

If you’re torn as to whether the 4-color process is the right avenue for your printing needs over Pantone Matching System (PMS) spot printing, you can turn to the “3 Color Rule” to help decide. The 3 Color Rule states that if your binder design contains 3 colors or less, you’ll gain more benefits by using PMS spot printing. This will leave you with colors that are richer and match better to the original. If your design has 4 colors or more, you’ll want to use CMYK printing (aka the 4-color process) in order to achieve the same results as using PMS spot printing.

Moreover, don’t try to employ the 4-color process when working with black-and-white images, since they are created by using black ink only. Spot printing will work best for these. When counting colors, be sure not to count multiple tones in the same hue as separate colors.

Basics of the 4-color process

CMYK mode for design

If you haven’t guessed, the 4-color process involves combining the four (printing) basic colors – cyan, magenta, yellow and black – to create the spectrum of color tones and hues available. The 4-color printing process works much like a TV or computer screen, except those technologies use blue, red and green pixels to create a colored image. Keep this in mind when you are designing a binder on a computer. Translating the binder design from RGB (digital) color to CMYK (printing) color can lead to a decline in color quality if you don’t know what to do.

Fortunately, you can eliminate this color quality loss to a certain degree by saving your binder design as a CMYK file. Additionally, when you print out a sample of how your binder design will look from a printer, there will probably be some difference from how your design will look on your computer screen. For this reason, you’ll want to ensure you see proofs of your design before making a final order to double check that your color choices are correct.

Play with negative space

Using colored materials can change the way your design looks by distorting and/or darkening it. Luckily, the 4-color process allows you the ability print full color pages on white material without fear of the images becoming distorted. Additionally, you can add extra embellishments in the otherwise wasted white space without worrying about potential distortion.

The advantage of being able to use white material and the 4-color print process is that you can design your binder to look like unconventional materials. For example, if your business sells countertops, you can design your binder to appear like it’s made out of granite or marble. Other examples of materials you can mimic include linen and leather.

4-color printing limitations

One drawback to 4-color printing is its lack of ability to reproduce certain colors accurately. Some specific colors are not produced properly when using 4-color printing process, such as:

• Silver
• Navy/dark blue
• Orange
• Fluorescent hues
• Metallic colors

These 4-color process limitations are the caused by the difficulty in making every color using cyan, black, magenta and yellow inks. This limitation also means that you’re likely to never get 100% accurate color mixes—expect that your color couldturn out slightly lighter or darker than planned. You won’t run into this issue with printing full color photographs; however, it could be an issue if you need specific color matching for branding purposes.

Remember, if the colors you need are that specific, you’re probably better off adding these individual colors in after the 4-color printing of the rest of the binder. Luckily, the 4-color process plays well with other printing processes, meaning you can use another printing process to add in colors and metallic accents that the 4-color process lacks. Additionally, this also means you can bring in foil stamping, embossing or PMS ink.

Custom screen-printed binders

When you need binders for your company, it’s important to not only make them functional – you also want them to be attractive and memorable. Otherwise, you’re better off saving some money and using plain binders you can buy at a big box store. If you’re in the market for a professional binder design that will give that extra edge, take a look at what Binders Inc. has to offer.

Our friendly sales team will be happy to explain the custom printing options available and answer any questions you may have. Contact us or call 1-800-962-1807 for customer service.