What Is Full Color Printing?

Full Color is a printing process that combines four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black, commonly referred to as “CMYK”) to create full-color images. These colors are printed on top of one another, producing a continuous-tone color image (meaning colors that smoothly merge together instead of distinct, sharply outlined areas of color).


The full-color printing process

Full-color printing offers a wide spectrum of vivid color, so you can add to the eye-catching appeal to a logo, plus ensure brand recognition with true colors. Full-color printing also gives a marketing piece a professional look, creating a higher level of trust with prospective customers. While full-color printing can approximate your brand colors, exact color matches cannot be guaranteed due to the variance in the color mixing process. If you want your brand color match to be exact, we suggest printing with Pantones. Keep in mind that Pantone colors can be affected when printed on some materials and may not match precisely.


Pantone, a.k.a. “spot colors”, are solid inks assigned to numbers to ensure consistent colors. Since there are variations between presses, press operators and other factors, CMYK colors are not guaranteed to be perfectly reproduced between printers or even print jobs. Pantone printing ensures accuracy, and conversion of Pantone colors to CMYK can greatly affect your color outcome.

There are different methods to achieve a full-color print job. Often, when someone refers to printing in full color, they are referring to full-color offset printing.

Full Color Offset

Full-color offset is the most common form of full color printing, and is currently the highest quality full-color printing—and the most expensive. This process is also referred to as screen printing or CMYK printing.

Digital Printing

Digital printing uses no screens, allowing you to print directly on a product, reducing set-up time, cost and waste. However, digital printing technology is still developing and does not yet match the quality of offset printing.


Another full-color method of printing is sublimation. This process uses dyes printed onto a transfer medium. These dyes are then transferred from the medium to your object under heat and pressure. Most products that can accept a sublimation style print are made of polyester or have a polyester coating. When heat is applied, the dye sublimates, that is, absorbs—into the polyester. This process does not fade or show wear easily; however, the printing quality is not as high as offset or digital.


Halftones reproduce a photograph or other image using different sized dots of ink.

Tiny halftone dots are blended into smooth continuous tones by the human eye. At a microscopic level, every halftone-printed photo contains only four colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black), as seen in the photo above. This is one of the reasons that an exact color match with full-color printing cannot be guaranteed.

Bleed Printing

Bleed is printing that goes beyond the edge of a material before trimming, with bleed specifically defined as the area that is to be trimmed off. If you are printing on an item where your image will “bleed” to the edge, be sure to allow for this in your art file. If this is not set up properly, the printing could produce a thin white border surrounding your artwork.