Hey. Did you know you can do spot colors in Photoshop? You do now. Or maybe you’re wondering what on Earth spot colors are. Here I describe spot colors, and tell you how to achieve them in Photoshop.
What are Spot Colors?
Spot colors are individual ink colors used for printing, such as Pantone® 526 C (a nice purple). They are used instead of, or in addition to, CMYK when printing on an offset press (commercial printing). Sometimes a company needs an exact shade of burgundy for their corporate logo. Or sometimes a company can’t afford the 4-color price for CMYK so they ask for two spot colors. This technique is good for screen printing as well. Two-color is perhaps the most popular type of spot color printing. Typically, black is used for photos and text, and a second color is used for headlines and other highlights.
Spot colors are made by mixing basic ink colors together in specific ratios using a formula guide. The formulas are usually assigned numbers, such as those of the Pantone® color system. Each spot color gets a separate plate. When colors overlap, the color underneath will either be knocked out or overprinted. When a color is knocked out, it will not be printed at all in the area underneath the second color. When a color is overprinted, both colors will be printed in that area. It’s usually a safe bet that black will safely overprint any ink. Because printers inks are translucent, this is not always the case with colors lighter than black. You may end up with a new combined color you didn’t want.
Prepare a Drawing for Spot Colors
There are many other uses for spot colors in Photoshop, but I’d like to demonstrate by creating my own drawing. You can do the same, or find an image you can trace over. You will need skill with the Pen tool for this particular technique (but not to use spot color). If you want to skip this part and get on with the spot colors, you can download the PSD file.
- Create a new document. I set mine to 1000px by 1000px, with a white background color. If you are doing an image in all spot color, like I am, it does not matter what color mode you choose. If you are making an image with CMYK plus a spot color, choose CMYK.
- Add a new layer and draw an image on it. I used the Pencil tool (located in the flyout menu for the Pen tool). This drawing is just a rough sketch for what we will draw with the Pen tool. This is my cat Athena.
For these first rounds, we want to concentrate just on the shapes of solid colors. We will worry about black outlines later.
- Select the Pen tool. Up in the Control panel, click on the icon for Paths (not Shape layers).
- Draw your main outline based on your rough sketch. Think in terms of creating the largest shape which can be filled in with a block of solid color. This will create a new Work Path in the Paths panel (if you cannot see the Paths panel, go to Window > Paths.)
- Double-click on the words Work Path in the Paths panel. Give the path a descriptive name. I named mine “cat shape” Click OK.
- In the Paths panel, click in the gray area below your new path. This will deselect the current path. We want to add new paths, not add to the existing one.
- Create paths for the other main shapes. I drew around the eyes on one path, around the pupils on another path, and around the nose on the last path.
- Again, deselect the paths.
- Now draw path segments for the bits of black outlines we still need. HINT: To finish one line segment before beginning another one that does not connect to it, Ctrl+click (Mac: Cmd+click) somewhere in the image window away from your paths.
- These segments should all go on the same path, because they will all be outlined in black.
- Name the path.
- Save your file.