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How To Decide If Four-Color Process Is Right For A Project

A printing job's color process will determine a huge number of things about it. The four-color process is one of the most widely used methods in the printing business, but you may wonder if it's right for a particular project. Customers can look at these four aspects of a project to decide if they want to use a four-color process.

Image Type and Quality

If a job calls for photographic image quality, going with four colors represents a low-end but feasible option. Generally, you'll want to use 6 colors or more for anything that requires high-end photography. However, many projects that call for okay photo images will be fine with a four-color process as long as they don't have rich colors or use a wide range of unusual ones.

Generally, four-color process works best for printing vector images. These are images that use shapes rather than a wide range of colors, such as logos or typography. Four-color methods often look great for products that predominantly use one relatively standard color, such as a deep red, without any gradation. It's also a great choice for projects that use spot color.

To Gloss or Not to Gloss

A good rule of thumb is that four-color systems work best for non-glossy products. If you're going to use glossy paper or cardboard for a project with four colors, it's usually best to keep the imagery simple and vector-driven.


Understandably, using more types of ink means a printer incurs greater expenses. They have to use more complex machinery, and they also will need to purchase more consumables.

Within the printing industry, the four-color process usually represents the middle tier or a slightly above-average option. It is popular because, when used properly, it often represents good value for your dollar. Going with four colors will be more expensive than printing in black and white, but it's cheaper than using 6 or more colors.

Original Color System

Digital printing projects utilize color processes from the time a file is created. If you're snapping photos with a camera, for example, the color profile is embedded from the moment you snap the image. Similarly, the profile is embedded when you're editing files on your computer.

Generally, bouncing between color systems creates problems. If you start in a high-fidelity format like camera RAW, moving to four colors will degrade the image quality a bit. A skilled professional can make some adjustments with both their computers and their printers to account for some of this shift, but there are limits.