How Knowing your Colours can help Reduce your Packaging Cost


Understand how Colours Affect Packaging Cost.

In this article, we will explain the following:

  • In certain packaging designs, all the creative effects and colours you want can be created out of 4 colour process, thereby making your packaging a 4 colour print job.
  • In other packaging designs, the exact colours you want may necessitate the use of 4 colour process and 1 or 2 extra colours, thereby making this a 5 or 6 colour print job which is more expensive than a 4 colour.
  • As a packaging printing company, we occasionally receive artwork that is set up as a 5 or 6 colour print job for jobs that could easily have been printed out of 4 colour process and would, therefore, have been cheaper to print. We will explain how to get your artwork set up to achieve the best overall result, balancing costs with the number of colours used in your packaging design.

As a packaging buyer, you’re going to invest time and money into creating the best design to make the final package look its best. Your graphic designer will create the packaging‘s artwork using the design and colours that he/she thinks achieves this best. Depending on what the product is, the design may include Spot colours (also known as Line, Solid or sometimes known as Brand colours) or four colour process or even a combination of both 4 colour process and one or two Spot colours.

Relationship between Number of Colours on your Packaging and Cost

The number of colours used in your packaging will obviously affect the cost of your packaging – clearly, a two-colour job will be cheaper than a 4 colour process job or a 4 colour process with spot colours.

Can you reduce the number of colours and still get the same effect?

Here’s the important bit … sometimes your designer may set up your artwork using, for example, four colour process and one or two Spot colours. However, the same visual effect can possibly be achieved by converting the Spot colour(s) to process and running the complete job as a 4 colour process – thereby saving you money because you now have the same effect but you are only paying for 4 printing plates and a 4 colour job, instead of a 5 or 6 colour job and 5 or 6 printing plates.

Obviously, there are times when using a Spot colour as well as 4 colour process is appropriate, where for example, the particular spot colour doesn’t look quite as vivid when produced from 4 colour process or where a company’s corporate colour takes priority. By talking to us or your packaging supplier before sign off on your packaging artwork – ideally, while it’s still in draft format, we can advise you how we think it is best to do the job and what the cost implications are for whichever option you choose.

What is the difference between Spot colours and 4 colour process in printing?

Spot Colours

Spot colour printing creates brighter, more vivid results, but with a smaller colour range. When printing in single (Spot/Line/Solid) colours, a single plate is produced which takes up 1 unit of the printing press. A printing press normally consists of 4-6 units each capable of transferring a separate colour to the paper/board/stock as it is being fed through the press. Each unit requires its own plate. Spot colour printing would be typically used for jobs that require no full-colour photos or pictures, such as for business cards and other stationery or where corporate colours are paramount. If you viewed a Spot colour printed item through a magnifying glass, you wouldn’t see any dot or screen overlaps of different colours.


All Spot colours are catalogued by the Pantone Matching System (PMS), an industry-standard for matching ink colours. A Pantone book is used by all printers to match the colours specified by your graphic designer.

4 colour process

4 colour process is used for printing items that use “full colour” i.e. where colour photos, images or a colourful design is used. 4 colour process printing involves the use of four basic colours Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, known in the industry as CMYK. The artwork is separated into the 4 basic colours and divided into tiny dots that overlap each other to produce the final colour.

If you viewed a 4 colour process item through a magnifying glass, you would see the tiny dots which make up the images or text.

4 colour process print enlarged

4 colour process print enlarged

The four CMYK inks are applied one by one by 4 separate in-line units on press. Each colour is applied to the board or paper one by one to produce the final CMYK print. If the job is a four colour process and one spot colour job, there will be 5 printing plates and an additional in-line unit is used.

Conclusion – what should you do to keep your carton and sleeve costs down?

Box clever! Talk to your packaging supplier while your packaging artwork is still in early draft stage and specifically ask about the number of colours used, its cost implications and overall visual effects. If you wait until the artwork is fully finalised before you discuss it with your packaging supplier, you may find you need to back-track and get the artwork re-created to avoid incurring higher printing costs as discussed above.

Avoid costly artwork re-creation or edits and achieve the best overall packaging and value by involving your packaging printer at a very early stage of the packaging’s lifecycle.

At Dollard Packaging, we would be delighted to talk to you and your packaging designer at any stage to help you get the best packaging for your product. Contact us at 01 847 00 44 or

Authors: Dollard Packaging Sales Team: 

Originally published: 9rd May 2016. Updated February 2020