Process Color Printing vs Spot Color Printing
Sportswear garments are usually printed two ways, using either screened ink or DTG (direct-to-garment). DTG requires an ink jet printer that handles t-shirts much as a desktop printer handles paper. Jet nozzles simply spray ink directly onto the shirt as it rolls through the printer. Alternatively, traditional screen printing technique pushes ink through a screen mesh and onto a substrate. Each color requires a separate screen. Lots of surfaces can be screen printed, such as fabric, plastic, metal, wood and paper.
Screen (and offset) printing normally uses two techniques to apply ink–either spot color or process color. Process color ink normally works with only four colors–Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black–or CMYK to provide a “full” color spectrum. (The black printing ink is designated K to avoid confusion with B for blue). Overprinting one transparent printing ink with another produces the subtractive secondary colors: red, green, blue. In reality, CMYK printing has a limited color and tonal gamut (range) because the tiny half-tone dots of discrete color are too small to resolve with the naked eye. As a result the colors on the surface mix in the eye, graying the color, diminishing intensity and limiting gamut. Direct-to-garment company printers rely on this color-limited technique.
Spot colors provide maximum intensity two ways. Ink colors can be selected directly from the original local art colors. (CMYK process printing always uses the same four CMYK colors). Spot color halftone inks remain butt-registered, meaning they don’t overlap on the surface. Special techniques allow for the use of halftones for spot-color gradients. These techniques (also known as simulated process printing) are used to yield a wide range of intense colors and combinations and—depending on how they are mixed—can result in mind-bending eye candy.