Spot Colors

Spot Colors: A Simple Way to Boost Direct Mail Response

Various studies of direct mail over the years have repeatedly found that using color instead of black-and-white can:

1. Increase response rates by as much as 80%.

2. Increase reading comprehension by as much as 73%.

3. Increase retention by as much as 78%.

4. Colored text was recalled more than bold text by as much as 14%.

5. Increase payment response by as much as 30%.

“Color” in these studies often refers to full color printing or process color printing. However, even using spot color printing can have the same beneficial effects on direct mail response. In process color printing, the printer overprints four transparent inks (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) in various combinations to produce the gamut of reproducible colors. spot inks, in contrast, are opaque, and the printer does not combine them. The desired color is specified using a unique number.

So, in process color printing, if you want green, we overprint cyan and yellow inks. In spot color printing, if you want green, you specify, for example, Pantone 370, which refers to a specific, standardized shade of green.

Many logos and corporate colors are spot colors because it’s easier to maintain color consistency across a variety of printed documents and print providers by using a specific spot color. Additionally, the CMYK color gamut is a fairly small one, and some shades are impossible to reproduce using process colors. Spot colors can fill this gap. Your printer can also use spot inks to print white.

Specifying spot inks can be as simple as picking a desired shade and noting its “PMS” (Pantone Matching System) number. There are other color swatching systems, but Pantone’s is the most common. Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress define spot color swatches the same way that any color swatch is defined. Both of these programs have built-in spot color libraries.

In InDesign, for example, to specify a spot color, select New Color Swatch from the Swatches palette menu. In the New Color Swatch dialogue box, change Color Type from Process to Spot. From the Color Mode pop-up menu, select the spot color library you wish to use. We recommend using either Pantone Solid Coated or Uncoated. Coated or uncoated refers to whether we will print the job on coated or uncoated paper. Select Pantone Solid Coated to bring up all of the available spot colors. Highlight the one you want, and click the Add button. The spot color appears in your Swatches palette. It’s important that you not edit a spot color swatch, as this will defeat the whole purpose of specifying spot colors by number!

Your monitor might not display the spot color exactly the way it will be printed. For best results, consult a printed PMS swatchbook.

Spot color can be a simple yet effective way to liven up a document and boost the effectiveness of your direct mail campaigns. So instead of black and white, consider adding a spot color. It can liven up your next direct mail campaign!