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ECG: The Best Way to Achieve Vibrant Colors in Print

Posted December 11, 2017 by Mark Gundlach

The Pantone Color Institute just announced PANTONE® 18-3838 Ultra Violet as the Pantone Color of the Year 2018! This news is always exciting because it sets the stage for upcoming trends for everything from housewares to fashion to packaging design.

In fact, we have already seen shades of Color of the Year used in packaging and graphic design by forward-looking brands in the CPG, luxury, and beauty worlds as well as by personalities and artists seeking to stand out.

Part of butter LONDON’S Pantone Color of the Year 2018 collection, this face and nail kit features four products in Ultra Violet as well as Ultra Violet-inspired packaging

As more brand owners begin to specify Ultra Violet (graphic arts equivalent PANTONE 2096 C) in their product designs, printers and converters must consider how they will produce this bold color in production. CMYK is the most economical method, but it provides a very limited gamut of color. While Spot Colors are more vibrant, they’re also more expensive to print.

So, what’s the best way to achieve bold, vibrant colors in a print and packaging workflow? Today we’ll look at your options, including Spot, process, and the rapidly growing alternative – Extended Color Gamut (ECG) printing.

X-Rite color management solutions for print and packaging deliver excellence in quality control, formulation and automation.

Printing Spot vs. Process

A Spot Color is mixed conventionally in the ink room or with an ink supplier, then printed as a custom color on a single deck on the press.

To print a process color, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (K) are digitally mixed in various amounts in the prepress software. The color is then produced by overprinting the combination of CMYK inks on the press.

When you’re done printing a Spot Color, you have to remove the ink from the press. If you’re using process color, you can leave those inks in the press and use them to print the next job. While printing Spot Colors has historically been the most effective way to achieve custom, bold, and vibrant colors, it is also much more expensive.

Extended Gamut, Expanded Gamut, Fixed Palette… What do they mean?

If you’re confused, you’re not alone.

Fixed palette is trying to standardize on a simple set of inks, typically CMYK. It can be any number of fixed inks: 4, 5, 6, or 7. When you look at a typical environment, whether that’s offset or flexo, you can hit about 65% of the Pantone Book within 2DeltaE using only CMYK.

extended gamut, expanded gamut

With that, we see companies trying to extend, or expand, their ink set to achieve a bigger color gamut to match a larger percentage of Pantone Colors. Extended or Expanded ink sets are 5 and beyond, but typically 7. By adding the right Orange, Green, and Violet, you can increase the percentage of achievable Pantone Colors to 85+%.  

Many people think “If I have 7 inks in my press, does that mean every job is 7 color?” The answer is no. You’ll use the required amount of inks to match the colors, but it doesn’t mean every single job will end up being 7 colors on press.


Tools of the ECG Trade

Accurate specification is a critical component of every printing workflow. While it might be a little easier in a single company, when you’re trying to make sure everyone across a graphic supply chain understands exactly what color you’re trying to achieve, things can get out of hand.

To help printers and converters overcome this issue for printing ECG, we created two important tools.

The Extended Gamut Guide works like other physical Pantone Guides, but offers a representation of how closely you can achieve Pantone Colors using 7-color Extended Gamut process. We created this guide with these three goals:

  • To achieve the largest possible gamut, while adhering to existing print standards for CMYK inks,
  • To keep O, G, and V inks mono-pigmented, and
  • To use inks that have a high chroma value AND an achievable print contrast. 

Pantone Extended Gamut Guide 2017 

With the Extended Gamut Guide, you can compare how well a Pantone Color will reproduce in an Extended Gamut, versus a single Spot Color, environment. You can also clearly understand which colors are required to reproduce a color. Notice under each color above, you can identify which of the 7 printing process inks are needed to achieve the color.


PantoneLIVE is an excellent tool for any printing method, including ECG. PantoneLIVE is a cloud-based repository of digital Pantone Standards. It includes two types of standards: Master and Dependent. Master Standards are digital versions of the standards found in the Pantone Formula Guide. Dependent Standards show how Pantone Colors will look given a specific printing process, ink system, and substrate. You can learn more about PantoneLIVE here.

Is Extended Gamut Printing Right for You?

In talking with our customers, we’ve learned that many printers are interested in Extended Gamut, but don’t know if it’s right for all of their jobs. While a lot of that hesitation is simply because change can be hard, they also wonder if the results will be acceptable to their customers.

Here are a few of the reasons to consider making the switch.

  1. Meet brand owner demands. Even if you’ve been successfully managing color for years, advances in inks, dyes, and substrates are introducing new challenges, and many brands are asking for tighter tolerances. Getting color right is much more important than it used to be, and the truth is, printing CMYK is no longer enough.

  2. Quickly respond to market trends. A lot of companies are starting to order just enough prints for their next production run. Printing Extended Gamut can help you respond to growth in SKUs and product variations and economically react to shorter run lengths and just-in-time inventory. You can also turn around trending colors, such as the Pantone Color of the Year, quickly, accurately, and efficiently.

  3. Improve overall equipment efficiency. Being able to more efficiently run the press is the beauty of Extended Gamut. It takes the conventional process printing and makes it better by adding additional colors. Since colors do not need to be removed after the job, press changeovers are much quicker.
  4. Match digital print. We’re seeing more environments that are a mix of digital and conventional presses, and that’s only going to grow in the future. Many new digital presses support 5, 6 or 7 additional ink colors. When you print offset or flexo Extended Gamut, you’re working in a similar way to a digital press because you don’t have to change the inks in between every job. 

Learn more

Successfully implementing ECG into your printing workflow can help you consistently achieve the vibrant colors brand owners expect today, and quickly respond to trending colors (such as PANTONE Ultra Violet). If you found this discussion interesting, watch our free on-demand webinar: Tools for Implementing ECG Successfully in Your Entire Workflow. Presented by Esko, X-Rite, and Pantone Experts, you’ll learn about the easy steps you can take to successfully implement Extended Gamut into your entire printing workflow.

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