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Commercial Colour Printing: Part 1 | Part 2
Contributor: Bob Swinbank

Bob Swinbank of Cardinal Publicity provides an accessible overview of the printing process in this two page extended article by explaining the fundamentals of The Four Colour Process, Offset Lithography, and The Five Stages of Print Production.

The Four Colour Process

The most common system for producing full colour print.

The vast majority of magazines and colour books are produced using four-colour process. Originally the artwork and originals were separated photographically using filters to produce four printing plates. Today the separation is carried out digitally.

Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black

The four ink colours are Cyan (Blue), Magenta (Red),Yellow and Black - often referred to as CMYK. Because the inks used are translucent, they can be overprinted and combined in a variety of different proportions to produce a wide range of colours.

Theoretically it is possible to produce an adequate range of colours using just Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. Indeed for a time three Colour Process was a viable option. However, in practice much better results are achieved with the addition of black. The black plate is used to strengthen the shadow areas and reduce the amount of CMY inks required.

Four Colour Example Image

Cyan Example Image  Magenta Example Image  Yellow Example Image  Black and White Example Image

Although the range of colours which can be achieved is adequate for most jobs the process has its limitations. It is important to remember that many colours which are available as special inks have no close equivalent in four colour process. In some cases it may be necessary to print a fifth plate in order to match, for example, a particularly difficult company logo colour. The additional cost of this is normally prohibitive and the necessity should be avoided at the design stage.

It is not unusual, where an elaborate effect is required, to print in six or more colours. There are presses which are capable of printing eight different plates in a single run through the machine.

Commercial Colour Printing: Part 1 | Part 2

This article has been reproduced under permission and may not be copied without explicit consent from the author Bob Swingbank © 2002-2007.

Authors background

Bob Swinbank runs Cardinal Publicity, a marketing and sales graphic design company specialising in technical illustration and copywriting based in County Durham, England. This article was originaly published at

Cardinal Publicity
is available on-line at
, and you may contact Bob Swinbank by email at

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This article has been reproduced under permission and may not be copied without explicit consent from the author Bob Swingbank © 2002-2007.

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