Why Are Special Inks So Important for Packaging?

A very common question among our clients is:“Why do we have to use special inks? Why can’t we just print CMYK?”If you’re a designer or a packaging expert and you are reading this, you definitely know what we’re talking about.

In packaging, color is essential. It communicates important characteristics about what’s inside. It delivers a message about the product before the package gets open. Consumers ‘read’ color much faster than words or shapes, so very often they find or choose the product they are looking for by color or by color combination.

Let’s now have a look at the main reasons why using special inks is so important.

One important thing we should keep in mind is that the ultimate goal of using the right color combination is to communicate the right concept, brand or flavor.

Fist of all, we need to make a distinction between CMYK and PMS:

  • CMYK is a full-color printing method used in color printing, and it is also used to describe the printing process itself. It refers to the four inks used in some color printing (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK)that mixed up in different percentages will form thousands of different colors.
  • PMS stands for Pantone Matching System, and it is a system designed by the Pantone Company to ensure that colors are printed consistently across multiple media, and across several jobs. What is usually called ‘Special Inks’ is referred to Pantone colors. To know what a Pantone color looks like, you need to look at a Pantone book. This is really the only way.

Probably the most relevant difference between CMYK and PMS colors is that it’s really hard to achieve bright, sharp colors with CMYK. Bright colors in packaging are very important, they need to be eye catching in order to get the customer’s attention. However, the reality is that when we print with CMYK, colors appear dull in comparison to what we could achieve with PMS colors.

Another issue related to CMYK is that color tones will change from one print run to another. It’s not consistent.This inconsistency is not always noticeable, especially to the untrained eye, but the change in color can affect brand recognition in some extreme cases.

Imagine if Coca-Cola’s iconic red was sometimes a bit orange, sometimes purplish. The fact is that it’s very hard for printers to get the same color over and over again, especially using CMYK. Consumers could also assume that the product has been on shelf for a long period of time and therefore gotten ‘discolored’ by age. This can definitely damage brand perception and consumer trust. Using PMS colors will ensure that the entire palette, for instance for different varieties of the same product, looks cohesive.

When the time comes to decide whether or not you need special inks, consider how much control you need to have over color. It may mean a slightly larger investment, but your client will definitely see a return on it.In the end the ultimate goal is for your packaging to look as good as possible because the better it looks, the better it will sell.




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