How are printers and publishers able to print book covers in neon? This House of Night book cover, for example, has the effect of neon color, but when I try to do it with CMYK they don't look vivid.

enter image description here

My problem is the following: An illustrator made a beautiful cover for me in neon, but when we converted the cover from RGB to CMYK, what was neon became matte. And printers only accept files with CMYK colors.

The Illustrator even bought a Pantone palette to try to find a color closer to the neon used on the cover, but it didn't work. How do publishers do it? Is there any trick, effect, anything that can be done to get the book cover printed in neon colors?

I put below an example of the neon RGB color that was used on my cover and the attempts in CMYK, I also added the colors of the cover from the House of Night book.

enter image description here

enter image description here

Updating the post: Rafael, I can't post the entire cover because the book hasn't been released yet, but I can post part of the cover. I posted both versions, one with RGB and the other with CMYK. I don't have the file in psd or ai, because when the illustrator created the cover she only sent me the cover in image format. I don't know if this is the file you asked for.

enter image description here

enter image description here

  • 5
    I'm disappointed that fluorescent inks are now called neon.
    – D Duck
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 22:15
  • Regarding the part of the cover you just posted. Manipulating the image to print in 6 inks (CMYK for the color image + two neons for the green and pink) is not the easiest task in the world and requires some knowledge about print production. The two extra inks needs to be separated to individual channels. Maintaining that outer glow on the lines is tricky/impossible. To tell you how to do, you would probably need to post it as a separate question where you show how the document (or a similar document) is set up with layers and all.
    – Wolff
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 15:39

5 Answers 5


Simply they do not print with CMYK, instead they use spot colors.

Spot colors are pre mixed inks and require a printer to print with one more ink. Its a bit like going to a paint shop and ask for a custom color. You can get quite the range of things from neon, to metallic or even transparent varnish (that creates a shiny spot on top where its applied)

There is lot to printing beyond CMYK. You can go even further and have a foil pressed on top and surface embossed if you wish. But offcourse cost of setting all this up is for you to pay. CMYK is the cheap option.

  • 2
    Just 1-2 Spot color can be cheaper than CMYK, depending on the provider of course.
    – Rafael
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 19:03
  • Yeah, but the downtime washing out a set of spot colours, especially if they're nowhere neat the process colour the dock usually has in it, adds to the cost, but of course running a 2-colour press is cheaper than the 4. I used to run both a single & a 2-colour sometimes… lots of washing up, especially of they were short runs ;))
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 19:11
  • 4
    Just if the OP isn't aware: A popular brand of spot colors is Pantone. So popular that people sometimes use the word "Pantone" when they mean "spot".
    – Wolff
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 19:16
  • 2
    @Wolff thats why i didnt say.
    – joojaa
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 20:04
  • @joojaa, whoops 🙊
    – Wolff
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 20:21

There is a lot to unpack here.

An illustrator made a beautiful cover for me in neon, but when we converted the cover from RGB to CMYK what was neon became matte.

No. He did a beautiful cover for you... probably using an incorrect color profile.

He made it on RGB mode which for the screen is ok. But a digital Paint MUST be worked from start using a correct CMYK color profile. This will still remain in RGB but simulating a print, so you do not have false expectations.

And printers only accept files with CMYK colors.

It is different from "printer" to "publisher" A publisher could have a closed workflow, with a specific set of constraints due to optimizing costs, time, specific providers, etc.

If you want to send it to a printer... find the correct printer who will solve your specific need.

The illustrator even bought a Pantone palette to try to find a color closer to the neon used on the cover, but it didn't work.

Again. The illustrator really planned the project? If the project is a vector-based project, similar to the image you posted, it is simply a matter of preparing the file, with the SPECIFIC spot ink. Not a "close one" but make a decision on which ink is really available.

In your examples, you are posting some pink and some green. The base neon colors on the formula guide are:

enter image description here

The neon inks are not just a happy color. It has some properties that turn a nonvisible part of the spectrum, some UV light, and change the frequency to a visible one. That is why they "glow". I am not sure the exact color you need. You can mix at some extent neon colors but at the risk of neutralizing them. So be careful if you do not really need to obscure them.

But there is a chance you can use the direct magenta for example and in the case of the green use a specific combination of yellow and cyan, and being careful to not adding any cyan or black to make the color as bright as possible.

How do publishers do it? Is there any trick, effect, anything that can be done to get the book cover printed in neon colors?

Yes. There is a trick. The trick is to spend some years knowing the craft.

Here is a link to another post, which can give you an idea of how to convert the image to spot ink. Preparing design for duotone printing? But it is better to send it to a professional and to find a suitable printer.

P.D. Good luck with your book!😀

  • Thank you so much for providing me with such a complete answer. You helped me a lot! So the cover that the illustrator made for my book was her first work, that's why some mistakes were made, but she's trying to fix it and I'm trying to help as it's also my first cover and I don't know much about it. The illustration doesn't use vectors like the cover I used as an example (House of Night), my cover illustration was really a digital drawing, but that's what you said, it was initially made in RGB, and then it had to be converted for CMYK that's when we lost the neon colors.
    – Nina B
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 13:59
  • If I use these Pantone 802C and 806C colors when printing will it look neon, like on the House of Night book cover? If so, do the illustrator just need to change the color of the entire illustration, or should do drawing be done from scratch again using those colors?
    – Nina B
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 14:00
  • I have not seen that book. The easiest way to see the colors is finding a printer nearby that has a Pantone formula guide, not the Pantone bridge. Regarding what is the next step, if the illustration can be rescued I do not know either I have not seen it.
    – Rafael
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 16:20
  • Try to find a designer who is proficient in spot ink preparation. It is not a common practice on this forum to share files, but perhaps you can share a small version of the original RGB file to take a look at.
    – Rafael
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 16:23
  • I posted a part of the cover up there in the original publication, because here in the comments there is no way to add images.
    – Nina B
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 13:05

Just a quick augment to the other answers here, one way to deal with this specific instance is to take the original illustration and then manually separate it into two separate greyscale images. You can then provide these separated files, along with discussion with the printer/prepress people.

In your question, the job looks to be a two-color job and is easily separated by ink color. Below is a quick attempt using your low-res image and a "selective color" mask. Black is where the ink goes, not what color the ink is.

Be aware that overprint/knockout/trapping in this case is not addressed, which is why you need discuss it with your printer.

Two images: "dark ink"/"neon ink":

enter image description hereenter image description here

  • 1
    Isnt that what rafael said it could be easily any other ink? But as per op its allready separated.
    – joojaa
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 20:52
  • @joojaa "Just a quick augment to the other answers here[...]"
    – Yorik
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 20:53

I am writing another answer because this is a very particular and specific case.

I am sorry, but the file is not ready at all to be used with fluorescent inks.

Here are just some examples of what could be done, of course, I am spamming again. Understanding these concepts first.

Here is the green channel tweaked to be used as Fluorescent-Green.

Extract channel (A). Invert it (B). Adjust levels to make it solid and clean the whites (C). Manually remove all ghosts (D).

enter image description here

Do the same with the Red channel to be used as Fluorescent-Magenta.

But the problem is that the black channel is the ink defining the image. You need to tweak (E) it but risking to mess with the CMYK proportions.

The F-M and F-G need to be also "extended" (F) so it overlaps with the black. Or you will have a white border (G).

enter image description here

Also, there is a chance the normal Process Black is not dark enough to cover over the other inks. It is a transparent ink. So probably you need to plan to use another type of black, but again. Risking the normal CMYK print.

As you can see. Doing this needs to be planned. But even then, it is a trial and error project. You need to work closely with the printer. Plan your spot colors in advance.

Additionally, there is a potential problem with the normal CMYK print. The images in the mirror are too dark. And if the printer is not careful, it could turn out very dark when printed.

  • 1
    +1 for opening Pandora's box. I didn't dare. This is really a hard issue to explain briefly.
    – Wolff
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 16:08

There’s too much to unpack there.

Printing neon colours is a relatively modern ability. It does involve spot colour but not “simply…”. Neon colours became available something like 35 years ago, because that’s when seven-colour presses were introduced.

Neon colours are “spot” but only after and above CMYK… not instead. Ordinarily, “spot colour” printing means each roller on the press uses one colour with no variations, which is much cheaper than handling the theoretically infinite variety of “full colour”, too often confused with CMYK.

Seven-colour presses allowed spot colours as additions, rather than an alternative. Look back at early magazine examples to see how that broadly led to garish green and orange as the fifth and sixth colours, with presumably a varnish in seventh place.

"Theoretically infinite" trips over the fact that even neon colours won’t stretch to metallics. Gold, brass or bronze, like silver or chrome, will not work on paper or screen and if they did, the two would scream incompatibility.

Before they reach the press, though, RGB and CMYK can never be accurately converted. Fairly close simulations are possible but that’s all, the limiting factor being the difference between generated light in RGB and reflected light in CMYK, most simply expressed through the simple fact that screens are not made of paper.

If they could be converted accurately, we might find close similarities in the way mainstream publishing software handled that conversion. Last time I looked Photoshop and QuarkXPress, for instance, worked as though neither had any clear idea what the other was trying to do.

Controlling that stuff normally means either undergoing expensive training or paying a consultant who’s done that. To get really niggly - which I do not suggest is reasonable - some consultants will insist that sample swatches are useless unless they’ve stored in light safes and even there, inside bags!

  • 4
    Color management is just genuinely a hard subject. But its infinitely worse because so many people treat it as magic... and not close behind comes superstition.
    – joojaa
    Commented Aug 28, 2021 at 8:22

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