When it comes to ordering full color digital stickers, or color match stickers, without any knowledge of specific terms, it can become confusing. Hearing terms like Pantone printing, PMS, digital printing, flexographic printing and Flexo can make someone’s head spin. So how does someone order custom printed stickers online for the first time without getting confused?
In this article, we will explain all of the above terms in order to make it easy for anyone to understand the differences.
When prospective clients come to us requesting custom labels or custom sticker printing, we always ask them for a list of the colors that will be printed. We also ask whether those colors need to match exactly or not. This answer will determine the type of printing that we would choose for any specific job. We’ve previously discussed flexo printing versus digital printing but now let’s take it a step further.
Color Match Stickers With Pantone Colors (PMS)
If a client requires us to color match stickers, matching a certain shade of color, then the stickers will need to be printed in Pantone colors using the Pantone matching system, abbreviated as PMS.
But Pantone wasn’t the original name of the company. It was previously M & J Levine Advertising, founded by the two brothers, Mervin and Jesse Levine in the 1950s. They hired Lawrence Herbert, who had considerable knowledge of chemistry to categorize all of the colored inks they carried. He created a standardized color matching system which he renamed “Pantone” when he bought the company in the 1960s. Thus the Pantone matching system, or PMS was born.
The Pantone printing matching system is now the standard across all design and printing houses across the world for color matching.
Full Color Stickers – The CMYK / Digital Method
Pantone colors must be printed Flexographically, not digitally. Pantone is not easy to print using the CMYK method, which is a mixture of the four basic colors, Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow (Y), Black (K). Cyan is similar to a turquoise blue, magenta is a purple shade, and yellow and black are, obviously, yellow and black.
By mixing these four colors together, a printer can create any color in the rainbow digitally. However, if the client needs to match a color, that would be difficult using the CMYK method. The printer would need to run the digital stickers several times to get the colors right. Even then, if he tried to reproduce the job the next day, various factors including even the weather would affect the shades that he was working with.
This is why Pantone colors must be printed using the flexographic method. With “flexo”, actual plates are created, similar to the old letterpress method. Interestingly enough, the term, “flexographic printing” was originated in the 1950s as well.
Flexographic Vs. Offset Printing
You might wonder what the difference is between flexographic printing and offset printing. Actually, they are similar. Offset printing transfers images to a carrier using a plate and then onto the printed surface. But flexo doesn’t need a carrier. Flexo can transfer ink directly to the printed surface directly from the plate.
So after all of this, assuming that the client needs to color match stickers, we would then ask the client if they know the Pantone color number they are trying to match. The best way to determine this would be to note the number from a physical Pantone color book. This would show them the exact shade that the number matches to.
Determining The Right Color Shade
If a Pantone color book is not available, one can look online. But realize that each monitor will give you a different shade of the color you are looking for unless the monitor is calibrated. This can be tricky, because if you look at one screen, you might think the color is perfect, but on another screen, the color might be too dark or too light.
This is why it might be important for the client to either purchase a Pantone color book or to hire a graphic designer who has one. Otherwise, the color may not match, and with hundreds, thousands or millions of dollars at stake, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
What Happens Without Color Matching
If color matching is not required, then the CMYK digital printing method would be fine to create full color stickers, such as in the case of reprinting a photograph. With these digital stickers, a purple will still be purple, a red will still be red and a blue will still be blue, etc. The difference would lie in the shade of purple, red or blue.
The CMYK Method Is Not Exact
Using the CMYK method of printing for digital stickers, if a client requests those three colors, while they will get those three colors, it might come out slightly lighter or darker than they are expecting. This depends on various factors, including the printing machine used, the inks, and as aforementioned, the weather, meaning the moisture in the air, etc.
If one is willing to live with a slightly lighter or darker color, then digital CMYK is ideal for full color stickers because it’s the least costly of all the options when it comes to multiple colored designs.
Assuming a one, two or three color job, one might elect to go with flexographic printing even though color matching is not required, to save money. This is because flexographic printing can often be inexpensive if you are opting for large quantities with minimal color choices.
Generally speaking, digital stickers printed in CMYK is a less costly option. This is especially the case when ordering a small quantity of stickers. However, we usually can offer both options to our clients and have them choose which option they prefer.
Another consideration however, is when a client needs a rush job printed. In that case, full color stickers reproduced by digital printing can be completed within minutes or hours. That is simply not the case with flexographic printing, because plates need to be created. Even so, when workflow permits, flexographic printing can be completed in his fast as 24 hours. That is still very fast when you consider everything that goes into it.
When requesting a quote, it’s always best to provide all details of what is required. That means including the exact quantity, ink colors, height, width, and whether the labels need to be machine or hand applied. Also important to know is whether labels need to be supplied on rolls, on sheets, or individually cut, which can then be used as handouts, etc.
Generally, it is always possible to color match stickers if necessary. Just understand that the process for doing so will be different than simply printing stickers using the digital method. Color matching using Pantone colors will yield the best results. For reproducing photographs, opt for digital printing.