What Is 4-Color Process Printing?

November 4, 2015

The CMYK color model (process color, four color) is a subtractive color model, used in color printing, and is also used to describe the printing process itself. CMYK refers to the four inks used in some color printing: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black). Process printing refers to the technique of printing a full spectrum of colors using halftones of these four primary colors layered over each other. These 4 transparent ink colors can be used in combination, with varying degrees of transparency, to create any color. Though it varies widely depending on the operator and other factors, ink is typically applied in the order of the abbreviation.

The “K” in CMYK stands for key because in four-color printing, cyan, magenta, and yellow printing plates are carefully keyed,or aligned, with the key of the black key plate.

The CMYK model works by partially or entirely masking colors on a lighter, usually white, background. Therefore, we recommend a white or natural color t-shirt when using this process for printing. The ink reduces the light that would otherwise be reflected. Such a model is called subtractive because inks “subtract” brightness from white. This process works well for very colorful logos or images with many halftones. In doing it this way, the maximum number of screens needed are four. Therefore the price of the custom tee shirt will be less because you are only paying for four screens.

In additive color models such as RGB, white is the “additive” combination of all primary colored lights, while black is the absence of light. In the CMYK model, it is the opposite: white is the natural color of the paper or other background, while black results from a full combination of colored inks. To save money on ink, and to produce deeper black tones, unsaturated and dark colors are produced by using black ink instead of the combination of cyan, magenta and yellow.

Do you or your company in Kansas City, MO have a need for custom t-shirts, polos, caps, jackets, etc.? We have over 20 years of experience in the custom screen printing and custom embroidery business. We would love to give you a free, no obligation quote for all your custom apparel needs. Look forward to hearing from you.