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Eve Padula

Going Beyond CMYK

Strategies for success in an evolving industry

Jul 19, 2021 12:22:28 PM


Some production color digital printing systems have been capable of printing effects beyond cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK) for decades. Thanks to ongoing technological innovations, today’s devices are now capable of faster speeds, longer runs, larger formats, a wider color gamut, and the ability to create eye-catching special effects that enable pieces to attract attention, encourage action, and drive business results.


Defining CMYK+

The ability to print more than just CMYK is a common feature of offset presses, which often have a fifth or sixth unit for printing special effects like Pantone colors, metallic inks, neons, or fluorescent colors. Colors beyond CMYK are quite common in wide format digital printing, with many of these devices supporting eight or twelve colors. In the production digital print market for documents, however, four-color devices are the most common with relatively few exceptions. Over the past several years, support for more than four colors (also known as CMYK+) has expanded to a much wider range of digital print devices. Most commonly, these devices feature a fifth color for effects like clear coatings, white, and special colors. These extra colors/effects, which might also be called print enhancements, are applied in-line with CMYK. There is also a relatively new class of offline devices that use digital print techniques to add special effects like spot coatings, dimensional effects, and metallic foils.


Unique imaging capabilities can transform printed materials from commodity, price-sensitive offerings to higher-value products that command a premium. There are many techniques for enhancing the value of digitally printed applications, including:

  • Specialty inks/effects: This category covers unique inks that are outside of the standard process or spot colors, such as metallics, foils, fluorescents, UV/IR (for security applications), and white (for printing on clear or colored substrates).
  • In-line spot or flood coating: For these applications, an imaging unit can apply a spot or flood coat of a clear matte, gloss, or satin finish. Spot coating enables special effects like watermarking, while a flood coating offers a matte or gloss finish and provides a protective layer against scratching.
  • Spot colors: An additional imaging unit can apply a standard highlight color as well as a custom color that matches a particular corporate brand or other desired color (such as a Pantone color).
  • Expanded color gamut: This can be achieved with a single color where the gamut is expanded in one direction (e.g., toward red, green, or blue), or it may involve multiple colors to further expand the gamut (e.g., by adding orange, violet, and green to cyan, magenta, and yellow). It is also possible to extend the tonal range of process colors by adding light cyan, light magenta, or light black (gray).
  • Textured effects: Textures produce a tactile, raised, and attention-grabbing effect on printed materials. These embossed/debossed effects are most common on applications like book covers, labels, and greeting cards, but they are now making their way into postcards and packaging.
  • Enhanced security: Materials can be printed with infrared (IR) or ultraviolet (UV) inks that only become visible under special lighting conditions. These are typically used for tickets, identity cards, and other documents where security is important.


Barriers to Growth

While the idea of print enhancements and color embellishments is certainly exciting, CMYK+ adoption and print volumes have been slow to grow. Respondents to Keypoint Intelligence’s research were asked about the challenges they faced when selling digital print jobs that included specialty colors or embellishments; the most commonly cited challenges included the price-sensitivity of customers, the amount of time it took for clients to change their designs, and struggles associated with selling the value of CMYK+.


Top Challenges with Selling Specialty Color or Embellishments


The first and third challenges in the Figure above are likely related—salespeople struggle to sell the value of these embellishments, so customers become overly price-sensitive because neither party truly understands the value proposition. Another reason for the relatively low use of special effects may be that designers and buyers don’t realize that digital devices are capable of producing affordable, short-run, and personalized pieces that include special effects. Print providers that educate customers on the value that special effects can add to digital print will be better positioned to stand out from their competitors.


Our Take

Print service providers should take a double-pronged approach in overcoming the challenges associated with selling CMYK+. First, salespeople must be properly informed about the value of CMYK+ so they can in turn educate their clients about the benefits. When customers are trained to recognize the value that print enhancements and embellishments can bring to their applications, their focus will shift and they will likely become less price-sensitive. Savvy PSPs must coach their salespeople to go beyond explaining what CMYK+ is and, instead, teach them to focus on articulating the value it can deliver.


There is a very sizable opportunity for PSPs to reap the benefit of CMYK+ print enhancement technologies. Doing so requires appropriate sales and marketing support as well as a company strategy that supports the creation of value. The rollout of CMYK+ capabilities can be a struggle, but the opportunity is clear. With a value-based strategy, print service providers will be well-positioned to bring these premium effects to their customers in an effective and profitable fashion.


Subscribers to our On Demand Printing & Publishing, Customer Communications, Wide Format, and Business Development Strategies Advisory Services can log in to the InfoCenter to learn more about the opportunities associated with CMYK+. If you’re not a subscriber, just send us an email at sales@keypointintelligence.com for more info.


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