F is for fundamentals of four-color process

I’ve had personalized plates on my vehicle for over ten years ~ CMYK2.

Two years ago I was late paying my plate fee and the DOT wouldn’t agree to tag my personalized plate anymore. As I stood at the window in their downtown Dallas offices, I was speechless. “But, I’ve  had that plate for over 10 years!”…. The clerk handled my disappointment very well, and I didn’t have any recourse because  I had fallen behind in renewing. I asked why they wouldn’t allow me to retain my CMYK2 even though I was only a few days late and she replied it was either because somebody else had snatched it up on my delay of payment, or the state had taken it back because they were issuing letters that were similar. It was frustrating to imagine that some other printer had laid-in-wait and had taken my specialty plate! My fault…my fault…move on. I waited for the clerk to hand me my new plates. As she did I looked at them and I had to laugh. My new plates are: MYK582. Really? How ironic that my new plates were only missing the C for Cyan.

Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black, or CMYK, the acronym for the four process colors printers use to create photo images and color on offset presses. Did you know that from the millions of possible colors displayed on your computer monitor that offset printers create those colors using only four process inks? These four inks are transparent so while combining them together in a series of dots they blend to create different colors. Think blue + yellow = green from art class. That’s exactly what we do. Want your green to appear more teal? Then we increase the percentage of blue dot. Want a more olive green? Then reduce most of the cyan and make yellow 100% and add a little percentage of black. You can imagine then that we are challenged when it comes to reproducing some colors on the spectrum of color. Many colors can’t be reproduced by combining four process inks. You would think this would be limiting, but with additional ink units on offset presses we can add Pantone (or color specific) inks that are specially formulated for a specific color. Although  costs are increased with the additional inks, many companies opt for the spot color to maintain their branding identity.

I think it’s just amazing we’re able to create all this color through four simple process colors.


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