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We have redesigned our product labels for our supplement brand and want to know from professional graphic designers and print savvy individuals if most product labels you see in retail stores use pantone or CMYK? The pantone will give us the consistency, but the CMYK may give us a bit more flexibility in color choice and future printers. We are curious to know if most brands that can be found in retail use Pantone or CMYK for their product labels? Thank you very much to all who share their knowledge!

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  • It depends. How many colours will you be reproducing? What print process will you be using? Traditional printing such as lithography, or is it digital? CMYK reproduction can look great, but in some cases using spot colours can look much better. Also note that it's possible to use both CMYK and spot colours, however the addition of spot colours will cost more. There's no one-rule-fits-all here. It's really very dependent on what you want. I can't really answer for "most brands". You'd need to do some kind of research.
    – Billy Kerr
    Nov 11, 2022 at 16:53
  • Each label will have approximately 3 colors and thousands will be printed. Since the runs can be large, most likely lithography printing will be used? We are unsure of the process though. We appreciate your feedback!
    – James
    Nov 11, 2022 at 16:57

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Further to the comments, I think I can answer this now, kind of . . . I can't answer this for "most brands", because some kind of research would be required.

Anyway . . .

For 3 colour printing, and a large print run, it's likely that 3 spot colours and lithography would be the best option. It may or may not be cheaper though. Ultimately only your printer can give you a cost estimate.

In nearly all cases (depending on the artwork), spot colours will look better than CMYK printing. No halftone screening is required for the colour mixes. Areas of colour will be sharp, flat, and well defined. And the quality of the colour will far superior.

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If you are thinking about using digital printing, then the only real option is probably full colour/CMYK.

CMYK printing can of course still look great, but it uses halftone screening to achieve mixes of colour, which will be visible if you look close enough. Also unless the text on the label is a solid C, M, Y or K, then the text will also be a halftone, which can look pretty awful with small text.

If I were you, I'd ultimately ask your printer for advice. Most are pretty happy to give it. Show them your artwork, and ask them what they would recommend.

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  • Thank you very much for your in depth answer. We greatly appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge. We certainly agree that using pantone will give us sharp and well defined colors, especially when using a bright color and some smaller sized text. Thank you again for your feedback.
    – James
    Nov 11, 2022 at 17:29
  • @james is confusing "spot" with "Pantone" Pantone Solid are spot colors but not all spot colors are Pantone.
    – Yorik
    Nov 11, 2022 at 21:40
  • @Yorik I'm not sure that is true here to be honest. James didn't mention spot colours, that was me. When I said spot colours, to be clear, I am talking about solid (100%) Pantone colours. Tints (less than 100%) of Pantone colours are also a possibility, but without seeing the artwork, I don't if the OP will be using any of these.
    – Billy Kerr
    Nov 11, 2022 at 23:37
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Here are some points to consider.

  1. Number of colors.
  2. Type of paper, absorption, roughness.
  3. Details on the label, mainly small text.
  4. Stile of the label. Gradients, flat colors.
  5. Special colors, metallic, fluorescent, bright colors.
  6. Print method and Finish. Puffy inks, engraver, silk print.
  7. Budget.

Sometimes we look for cheap alternatives for our prints. But cheap also means easy falsification, so, if your brand uses normal paper on an inkjet printer, they can easily be forged.

Using a spot ink, means, at least that it needs a bit more effort than a home printer.

You need to define what you mean when saying:

flexibility in color choice and future printers.

You define your colors and production cycles. Period. Normally a brand is not changed on the fly.

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From a print and brand perspective - your logo and brand name should be in spot/PMS color to maintain consistency across your product line and branding/marketing materials. If you change printers, change machines, etc, the PMS color should remain constant. If you decide you want to go with process colors, then establish a standard CMYK mix for your logo and brand so no one has to guess what formula to use. If you're going online with your materials, also establish your RGB percentages. Consistency is key to making your brand recognizable as well as making the reproduction process as smooth as possible. Just as a random pick, here's how FedEx sets it up: https://usbrandcolors.com/fedex-colors/

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(Active in packaging and labels artwork for 25 years)

Spots colors are still very common in packaging, especially (but not exclusively) with A-brands as they have larger order sizes and they are less willing to compromise design, quality and consistency. Six, seven or eight color prints are more rule than exception (CMYK + spot).

For cost and time-to-deliver reasons, CMYK label printing is slowly making a rise, made possible by digital printing presses (where spot colors are not possible and every color is to be composed) and halftoning advancements in offset printing.

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