How to prepare your full-color print-ready files

Print Ready Files: CMYK Vs PMS

Color is a big part of what makes your brand unique. That’s why accurate, consistent color reproduction of your printed pieces is a must. A basic understanding of the two types of color systems – PMS and CMYK – can help you present a consistent brand image to your customers and prospects.


With CMYK, every color you want to print needs to be broken down into four elements: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. A rainbow of colors can be created by printing overlapping dots composed of them. Because a wide variety of colors can be printed in a small area, CMYK is well-suited for printing multi-colored graphics and color photography.

The biggest disadvantage of CMYK is a lack of color consistency. Because it requires four printing plates and the colors are mixed during the printing process, they can vary slightly on various printers or throughout a printing run. It’s also harder to reproduce bright colors using a CMYK color palette. Choosing a single source for printing will go a long way toward keeping your brand colors consistent.


The Pantone Matching System, more commonly known as PMS, is a system of thousands of numbered swatches. Each one represents a color recipe that doesn’t require overlapping dots to create colors. In addition, PMS colors can be screened as a halftone to produce a variety of shades.

PMS colors are pre-mixed with an exact formula of inks prior to printing. This ensures the most consistent color possible across different printers and applications. If your brand utilizes a very specific color palette, then PMS is the best color profile to use.

Spot colors

It is possible to combine CMYK with PMS colors in a single print project. Many designers create the majority of their documents using the CMYK color space, but then give their printer special instructions to print key elements that need to be an exact color match as a “spot color.” Defining that PMS color as CMYK is critical to the consistent reproduction of a spot color.

How to prepare your files for printing

If your file was created using Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or Publisher, chances are it’s based on an RGB (red/green/blue) color profile. Before submitting it to a printer, make sure you convert it to CMYK. Consult your software program for instructions on how to do this.

Images, logos and other graphical assets must be rendered at a high resolution (measured in dots per inch or DPI), so they reproduce well when printed – at least 300 dpi. The only exception to this rule is when the graphic is created as a vector file, which means that it can be scaled to any size and will maintain its sharpness.

If your project is designed in spot color, please make sure the correct PMS color is designated in the files. If you use single colors in your design, the designated colors must be specified as PMS numbers and not as CMYK builds.

How black do you want the black colors in your piece to print? When it comes to commercial printing, there’s black and then there’s rich black – an ink mixture of solid black over one or more of the other CMYK colors. It produces a darker tone than black ink alone can generate during the printing process.

Finally, because CMYK is a subtractive process that combines multiple dots of ink to create a single color, it’s not good at printing bright colors. You may need to rely on spot colors to get them to “jump” off of the page in the way you envision.

If you have very specific expectations of how your colors should look in print, let your commercial printer know what you’re trying to achieve. They will work with you to build your colors correctly so your printed piece will be produced exactly as you expect.

Remember: Seeing the colors of your artwork in print is different than viewing them on your computer screen. That’s why it’s important to have realistic expectations about how your final piece will look when working with a commercial printer.

If you have any questions about colors in your printing projects, contact Heritage Printing today.