Archive | February 2012

From Digital to Physical: Spot Colors

In past months it’s come to my attention that a lot of designers don’t understand the printing processes. It’s true a lot of promotional pieces, ads and information are moving online, but we still live in a world where people need things printed on a poster, brochure or package.

I first started studying design in 1998 and at the time, the web was a new place for advertising still coming into its own, and we still designed mostly for print. Terms like, Camera-ready art, setting up proofs on card stock, and Pantone books were still in effect.

While I can write a whole book on the differences between web and physical designing, I just want to cover the main issues i’ve come across. I have a full-time job as a Pre-Press Operator, and I deal a lot with physical printing. Today, I wanted to explain to you the differences and terms of  Spot Color and CMYK.

 Spot Color

A spot color is a term mostly used in offset printing. It’s an ink defined by a Pantone number. It consists of four colors; Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, also called CMYK. Every spot color is it’s own plate, when printing. Think of a plate as a layer for color. If you have 5 colors, you have five plates.

 Here’s a small tutorial on how to find and use a spot color.

Open up Illustrator and start a new project.

Make some boxes and fill with any color you wish.



Go to Window > Color  

This will open up the color palette and show you exactly what the break-down is. It’s safe to say it will either read CMYK or RGB. To make sure it’s on CMYK go to the Drop down box on the far right and select CMYK. If you look at the sliders you can see that the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and black can create any color you desire.

Alone this formula doesn’t help me figure out what color you want. No two screens are alike and you can’t match colors in this way. When a designer sends me work to print and they say, “I want that red, I have it separated for you in CMYK.” That means to me, they didn’t pick a color from a Pantone Swatch Book. This also means I’m guessing in the dark what color you really want.

A Pantone Book is a series of swatches, each with a number that correlates with a Spot Color. It’s kind of the missing link from physical to digital. When starting a new project, it’s best to start looking at a Pantone Book. This is the best way to keep that color consistent throughout the entire project.

Say you see a red in the Pantone Book, and it’s a 484. You want to use it in your artwork instead of the CMYK separated red. It’s a fairly easy process to execute.

To open up the color palette go to Window > Swatch Libraries > Color Book 


Instead of going into the different styles, coatings and books we’ll just stick with the PANTONE Solid Coated (Make sure you use the exact option in illustrator as the book you’re using. Otherwise your colors won’t match). You’ll see a window open up with a bunch of thumbnails.

To search a color go to the drop down box and select show find field (If it’s not already present).

Start typing in the 484 and Illustrator will select it for you. Selecting or dragging the color will make that box the 484. Even if it doesn’t look like the color on the swatch book, it’s still always going to be that color from the book. Remember, screens lie to you. Unless you do an exact color calibration and even then, never trust a computer screen. Even a print out for that matter. You’ll never get an exact match. Leave it to the professionals.

 If you want to manage and easily see your Spot Color selection go to

Windows > Swatches


A quick and easy way to get rid of any color not in use, (Or to see a color that shouldn’t be there) go to the drop down menu and select all unused. This will highlight any color not in use. Just drag them down to the trash and you should only be left with the 484. This can come in handy when you deal with multiple Spot Colors or need to quickly change or select an entire color.

I hope this helps a little bit when setting up your artwork. I’ve seen it happen when a designer will create a beautiful work of art in CMYK and miss deadlines because I have to explain what a Spot Color is, and they go back essentially recreating the entire job.

If this was at all helpful or interesting, I’d love to hear about it. Anything that is wrong? Please let me know. If it was helpful, I do plan on making more posts like this explaining the differences in printing and anything that goes with setting up files to make it easier, quicker, and less frustrating when communicating with your own printer.


Top 5 “Hidden” Inspiration Websites

Recently I did a post on the Top 5 Inspiration apps for iOS. Today I wanted to do a post on my top five Inspiration-finding websites.

There are a lot of websites just dedicated to find Inspiration with multiple pages of designs, artists and blogs. They’re all great resources. You don’t have to limit yourself with just these sites, however. There are countless blogs that, while not inspiration sites, do exactly that.

 5. Appshopper

What’s the biggest thing still? iOS apps. I don’t know about you, but I just fall for any app that has a great-looking design, even if it doesn’t actually do anything useful (Awesome looking flip clock apps). However, it’s a great site to look at new apps from various categories, and check out their designs, function, and style.

 4. io9

While a blog about futurism, it’s also a great source for finding new and cutting-edge designs. They post a lot of concept art, and feature new and prominent artists. It’s actually a great site to see where design may be going in the near future.

 3. Retro To Go

It’s a great site to look at products from the past and retro remix products of today. I find the most inspiration in the patterns or style of a product.  A wallpaper I created a while ago of the iMac family was from a pattern of a dress being sold, that Retro To Go blogged about.

 2. Mashable

While dealing mostly with the Social network side of news, they also feature stories about different designs and artists. I especially love their “Top 10 posts”  ranging from icons to app design. They also heavily feature infographics (such as my own), and can be a great resource for inspiration.

 1. Wikipedia


Now this may be an odd one, but I can’t tell you the number of times I just did random searches on Wikipedia and came up with an idea to feature said search. My Periodic Table of Controllers, was a random search on Nintendo and the D-pad. 300,000 clicks later, it’s one of my most popular designs on flickr.

As I said before, Inspiration comes from everywhere. Just because a site has “inspiration” in it’s title or tag, doesn’t mean it’s the only site to check out. When working on a new design, keep in mind the sites you read and how they can maybe help guide you to think differently.

Top 5 Inspiration iOS apps

Inspiration is a key stage for any designer. You can see it everywhere, from a book, a movie or even walking outside to your car. Before any design, I look for inspiration. I’ll see something and either take a picture, draw it, or jot it down. With the iphone and iOS, it’s even simpler now to do it.

Today, I want to show you my top five apps to help me find, remember and share these inspirations. The apps aren’t really made just for this specific subject, instead I find them extremely useful for what I want to do and not necessarily made for that idea.

 5. FAB 

Fab is a great little app that shows deals on shirts, appliances; pretty much whatever you’re looking for. While the app is designed nicely, it’s also a great way to look for ideas and inspiration. If you’re a product designer or even a print/web designer, this is a great app to see what’s trending and different styles on multiple forms of media.

4. Voice Memo 

I don’t carry around a notebook all the time ( I should ) and the keyboard on an iPhone isn’t the most ideal way to jot something down. The voice memo app fixes all that. There have been times when I’m out walking around and an idea randomly pops in my head. Since everything I remember lasts about 5 min, this app is priceless to me.

3. Flipboard

A stylish, easy-to-use, RSS reader. It’s also a great place to look at designs, photos or anything, in large vibrant images.  It’s extremely customizable and has a beautiful easy-to-use interface. In can also link up to all your other sites like flickr or twitter.

2. Twitter 

We all use twitter for different reasons. I’ve set up all my accounts, flickr, tumblr ios photos to go to twitter. That way, when I post something it gets shared with the world ( Or whoever is following me at the time) can see it. You can follow designers, blogs, stores. This is one of the best ways to share or find inspiration.

1. Camera App

The iPhone camera is my favorite app. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in a store, antique shop or just walking around and saw something I want to remember. Take a snapshot, email it, share it or just save it for later. It’s always important to take a camera with you, and iOS gives you a great way to capture an image and do so much more with it at that moment instead of snapping a shot and forgetting about it.

Don’t just bind yourself to apps with a title inspiration or a tag. Think about what you do to capture or remember these moments and use the tools you already have in your hand. They maybe better then you think.

If you have any other apps you use that aren’t the norm, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.