The answer, of course, is that it depends.  It depends on what you are printing and what your expectations are.  First, let’s define the terms and explain what each color system really is, then we can discuss why one would be better than another for a particular job.

Spot Colors – PMS Colors – Pantone Colors

PMS Color System

Pantone Colors


These are all names for the same thing.  In this color system, each print station in the press is loaded with a specific color that you specify.  The Pantone Matching System (PMS Color) is very widely used in the printing industry.  The Pantone color book is much like a paint color swatch book that you would get when you are painting your house.  Each color is specified by a 3 or 4 digit number.

This system works very well in many cases because it allows precise control of each graphic element.  If you have a very specific logo color like ‘Nike Orange’ or ‘Coca-Cola Red’ you would almost always get the best results if this element is run as a Spot color so it can be controlled independent of the rest of the design.

Most of the PMS colors can also be ‘built’ from the 4 primary colors using the CMYK color system, which is discussed below, but this isn’t always the best option:

–  Small colored text or logos that are build of of 4 colors can appear fuzzy

–  Color can only be adjusted for the whole label – it all has to be made lighter, darker, more yellow, etc

–  Many designs are less expensive with 1,2, or 3 PMS colors than with CMYK color


4 Color Process – CMYK – Full Color

CMYK Color Separation

CMYK Color


In the CMYK color system, all colors and shades in the image are built out of 4 primary colors – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK – this is where the term CMYK comes from.  Unlike the PMS color system, where each element of a design is printed in its own color station, and each element can be controlled individually, with this color system, everything on the label is printed using the same 4 inks.

The advantage here is that this is the only way to represent the thousands of colors and tones found in a color photograph, and in some cases, many spot color elements and logos can be created using only the 4 process colors.

–  This is the only way to reproduce a full color photo

–  Sometimes this allows you to print more spot colors than with the PMS color system

–  Often CMYK is used for a photograph AND PMS colors are also used for text or a logo on the same label



At Rose City Label, you have the best of both worlds.  We have two 6 color presses, and one 8 color press.  These allow you to print CMYK for your full color photograph, plus a gloss or matte UV varnish, and one to three additional spot (PMS) colors.  Another note to keep in mind – nearly all digital printing presses use only the CMYK color system – not PMS spot colors.  This allows digital presses to reproduce almost all colors in the PMS book, but some colors are more difficult to reproduce accurately – especially orange, green, and purple tones.

Which color system is right for your label?  It all depends — please call us today and we will be happy to help you.