What is Four Color Process Printing?

What Is Four Color Process Printing

Rules of Four Color Processing

Tips for Four Color Processing

Drawbacks of Four Color Processing


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Four color process printing is a printing process where you begin with finished full color artwork and separate out the artwork into the CMYK format – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. The separate films are created and printed with special process inks and the print looks like the original artwork.

Red, blue and green are the primary colors of light that the eye perceives. Computer screens and televisions use red, green and blue light. When the three colors are mixed together it creates white, and the absence of color altogether is black. While this combination works great on screen, it does not work quite so well on paper. Thus, the base colors for printing on paper are CMYK and not RGB.

CMYK are subtractive colors or secondary colors of red, blue and green.

Red + Green = Yellow (R+G = Y)
Blue + Green = Cyan (B+G = C)
Red + Blue = Magenta (R+B = M)
And Black = K

A photo has to be broken down into CMYK color elements to be printed on paper. Originally, a process camera and four filters were used to complete this process. The filter had a very fine screen made up of dots. Each of these screens would filter out one of the four colors. The film was then processed and printed onto a special metal plate that then would be placed on the press.

Most printers digitize the images require printing by using a scanner. The individual plates are then created from the digital images. This gives the printer much greater control and the whole process becomes extremely cost effective. The printer can be much more precise about dot placement once an image is digitized, and minor corrections are to make in a digital image. Making changes to photographic plates often meant shooting the picture over, which took more time and cost more for the printer and the customer.

When four color process printing is done with care, the prints look absolutely fantastic. With just four colors you can get an entire spectrum of colors and match the original artwork very closely.

For four color process printing it is essential to start off with perfect artwork because the quality will only decrease as you go along. It is best to have artwork with high contrast. Fine subtleties need to be avoided, as they can get lost in this process. Fluorescent colors also do not print accurately and are avoidable. You can also use a high quality computer image for the printing.

However there are several drawbacks to four color process printing that need to be worked around. Follow the rules of four color process printing and read up on tips for four color process printing to get the best results.

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