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Understanding the difference between process and custom colors

From: Illustrator Insider Training: Coloring Artwork

Video: Understanding the difference between process and custom colors

When working with Illustrator, it's important to realize that we have two kinds of colors that we can use. We have something called Process Colors, and then we've something called Spot Colors. Now it's important to realize that Process is also a word that is sometimes referred to as four color process printing or CMYK, but in Illustrator, process has a bigger meaning. Process means that the color itself is derived from a combination of other primary colors.

Understanding the difference between process and custom colors

When working with Illustrator, it's important to realize that we have two kinds of colors that we can use. We have something called Process Colors, and then we've something called Spot Colors. Now it's important to realize that Process is also a word that is sometimes referred to as four color process printing or CMYK, but in Illustrator, process has a bigger meaning. Process means that the color itself is derived from a combination of other primary colors.

So with Illustrator specifically, Process Colors are defined as a mixture of primary colors. Now the primary colors in CMYK are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. If you're working in an RGB document then defining process swatches would be using values of red, green and blue. However, the colors that you're trying to create are always being generated using a mixture of these primary colors. For example, in this document here, if I go over to my Swatches panel and I want to create a new Swatch, since I'm now inside of an RGB document, Illustrator show me my RGB color model right over here, and I can choose a color by mixing various percentages of red, green and blue colors.

If I'm working in a CMYK document where I want to define the CMYK color, I would choose my CMYK color model and now I can choose a color by combining various percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink. So when we talk about Process Colors inside of Illustrator, we're basically just taking a color and defining its appearance by using different values of other primary colors. Now I'm going to click Cancel here, and let's focus on this concept that what a Spot Color is inside Illustrator. To make it even easier to understand I sometimes refer to Spot Colors as custom colors.

In other words, a Spot Color is a color that you define; it's not made up necessarily by any mixture of any primary colors. In fact, their primary use for Spot Colors is for when you want to tell a printer on press that they should mix a custom ink, where they should create something that is special just what you would define. Let me give you the couple of examples. Let's say you wanted to create a business card and you wanted the background of that business card to be red. Well, we all know that there are many different shades of red, so I might, if I'm working in a CMYK document, create a mixture of several colors, because magenta is not purely red.

So what I may do is combine magenta and yellow together to create a nice rich red color. Now that would work fine if the actual business card that I'm creating is going to be printed on a press using CMYK colors, meaning four different colors on press. However, if I'm doing a business card, I may decide that I don't want to spend the money on printing four colors, I only want to print two colors. May be I want to print black and then a red ink. So how I would I tell my printer exactly what shade of red I want? So designers and printers usually rely on a standard.

For example, there is a library of colors called Pantone; it's basically a large book that has a whole bunch of different colors printed inside of it, both a designer and a printer both have the same copy of this book. So a designer may choose a certain number of red, for example, they may choose Pantone 185, and then they would tell the printer, they want the background of the business card to be printed using that Pantone 185 colored ink. Now the printer having the same book on his end would look up the values or the settings for this red ink and basically mix an ink to match that color exactly.

However, when that particular job runs through the press, instead of putting cyan, magenta, yellow or black on the press, the printer will just have black ink and then another set of ink, which is this red ink that's being custom mixed for this one job. When you're using Illustrator, the way that you define that custom color is by creating a Spot color. Now in reality, a Spot color may not even be a color at all; there are different processes that are used in printing. For example, something called a varnish.

A varnish is a clear liquid that is added to the paper to allow the paper to have a glossy finish to it. Now what some designers may do is they may ask for that glossy finish to be only applied in certain areas of the design. In other words, you'd have some parts of the page that appear flat or matte and some parts of the page will have a glossy finish. The way that you would specify the areas that are going to print with just that varnish, would be defined inside of Illustrator as a Spot Color. Now in the world of printing, once you've created your design here inside of Illustrator, a printer would take your file and create separations.

It means that I would take my design and have that design converted to different values of in the case of printing, different values of cyan, magenta, yellow and black. These separations get printed out of Illustrator as four separate sheet of paper. We refer to those four separate sheets as plates. So you would have one plate for cyan, one plate for magenta, one plate for yellow and one plate for black. In essence, a Spot color is just a named plate that you create. So, for example, if I would have created some kind of a job that had only black plus a red color, when I actually print separations, if I've used the Spot Color, I would get one plate for black and one plate for my Spot Color.

It's entirely possible to mix the two, so I can have a single document that has cyan, magenta, yellow and black, but that also has additional spot plates. There are other times when I may only use Spot Colors, and I won't use Process Colors at all. In the world of apparel design, for example, I may turn all of my artwork into specific Spot Colors. So, for example, if I were screen printing artwork onto a T-shirt, I would need to generate a separate plate for each of the colors that I'm using. Now the colors that I'm using are not to be specifically only cyan, magenta, yellow and black, in fact, they probably will never be those colors.

It's probably going to be custom colors that I choose for each T-shirt design that I want to create. So I will create a Spot Color for every color that I'm using in my design. Now since Spot Colors are primarily used to create separate plates during the separation process, and since the separation process is not necessary for designs that are being displayed on a computer screen, it's very rare that a web designer, for example, or someone who designs stuff for video, whatever need, they'd use Spot Colors. Still, whenever you create a Swatch inside of Illustrator, just important to realize here where it says, color type, we always need to choose between Process Colors or Spots Colors, and those are the two kinds of colors that I can create inside of Illustrator and understanding a difference between them will help avoid some confusion later on.

Now in the next chapter, we'll actually go through the process of defining these colors, both Process Colors and Spot Colors, and maybe at that point with some specific examples, if you already don't understand the difference between these two, that may be will better solidify you understanding of these two settings.

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This video is part of

Image for Illustrator Insider Training: Coloring Artwork
Illustrator Insider Training: Coloring Artwork

48 video lessons · 12499 viewers

Mordy Golding
Author

 
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  1. 6m 38s
    1. Welcome
      1m 16s
    2. Adobe Illustrator: A colorful history
      3m 25s
    3. Getting the most out of this training
      1m 30s
    4. Using the exercise files
      27s
  2. 32m 35s
    1. Getting to know the color models
      9m 5s
    2. Understanding the difference between process and custom colors
      7m 7s
    3. Understanding how the HSB color wheel works
      11m 2s
    4. Working with color harmonies
      5m 21s
  3. 43m 55s
    1. Deconstructing the Color panel
      6m 36s
    2. Working with "phantom" colors
      5m 16s
    3. Defining and using process colors
      6m 15s
    4. Defining and using global process colors
      7m 51s
    5. Defining and using spot colors
      8m 37s
    6. Accessing color libraries
      9m 20s
  4. 46m 22s
    1. Organizing colors into groups
      13m 59s
    2. Creating swatches and groups from artwork
      7m 19s
    3. Removing unused swatches from documents
      3m 48s
    4. Replacing and merging color swatches
      5m 38s
    5. Creating and managing your own color libraries
      6m 10s
    6. Making custom libraries permanent
      2m 50s
    7. Adding custom colors to new documents
      6m 38s
  5. 19m 42s
    1. Accessing Kuler from within Illustrator
      2m 20s
    2. Getting inspiration from the Color Guide panel
      2m 41s
    3. Understanding how the Color Guide works
      3m 58s
    4. Setting limits on the Color Guide
      10m 43s
  6. 40m 54s
    1. Editing color groups with the color wheel
      12m 51s
    2. Breaking down the Recolor Artwork feature
      8m 16s
    3. Understanding what color rows represent
      6m 34s
    4. Protecting black, white, and gray
      6m 24s
    5. Finding colors quickly with the magnifying glass
      3m 28s
    6. Randomly changing colors
      3m 21s
  7. 53m 34s
    1. Making global color adjustments
      3m 48s
    2. Remapping colors in an illustration
      6m 13s
    3. Fixing colors in a document
      8m 57s
    4. Understanding color reduction
      13m 29s
    5. Reducing colors intelligently and precisely
      7m 42s
    6. Changing the colors within patterns
      4m 39s
    7. Using color groups to your advantage
      8m 46s
  8. 21m 24s
    1. Converting color to grayscale
      3m 25s
    2. Converting to grayscale with the Grayscale color group
      4m 45s
    3. Converting grayscale to color
      2m 27s
    4. Finding spot equivalents of process colors
      6m 48s
    5. Producing color matches intelligently
      3m 59s
  9. 16m 26s
    1. Proofing colors for color-blindness
      4m 56s
    2. Understanding book color
      9m 11s
    3. Previewing color separations
      2m 19s
  10. 3m 20s
    1. Taking color further with the Phantasm CS plug-in
      2m 30s
    2. Next steps
      50s

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