How to Preserve Spot Colors in Photoshop CC 2019

Set up spot color channels in Photoshop for printing

Adobe Photoshop is most often used in its RGB color mode for screen display or CMYK color mode for commercial printing, but it can handle spots colors as well. If you are designing an image that must print with one or more spot colors, you can create spot channels in Photoshop to store them.

Instructions in this article apply to Photoshop CC 2019 for Windows and Mac.

Spot Colors in Photoshop

Spot colors are premixed inks that are used in the commercial printing process. They may occur alone or in addition to a CMYK image. Each spot color must have its own plate on the printing press, where it is used to apply the premixed ink. 

Spot color inks are often used when printing logos since the color must be exactly the same no matter where the logo occurs. Spot colors are identified by one of the color-matching systems. In the U.S., the Pantone Matching System is the most common color-matching system, and Photoshop supports it. Because varnishes also require their own plates on the printing press, they are treated as spot colors in Photoshop files destined for a commercial printing company.

An image designed in Photoshop with spot channels must be saved in DCS 2.0 or PDF format before it is exported to preserve the spot color. The image can then be placed in a page layout program, such as InDesign, with the spot color information intact.

How to Create a New Spot Channel in Photoshop

To create a new spot channel in Photoshop:

  1. Select the Menu icon in the Channels palette and select New Spot Channel.

    If the Channels palette isn't visible, select Window Channels to open it.

    Select the menu in the Channels palette and select New Spot Channels.
  2. Select the Color box in the New Spot Channel dialog.

    Select the Color box in the New Spot Channel dialog.
  3. Select Color Libraries in the Color Picker dialog.

    Select Color Libraries in the Color Picker dialog.
  4. Select Pantone Solid Coated or Pantone Solid Uncoated from the drop-down list (unless you receive a different specification from your commercial printer).

    Select Pantone Solid Coated or Pantone Solid Uncoated from the drop-down list (unless you receive a different specification from your commercial printer).
  5. Select one of the Pantone Color Swatches to choose it as the spot color.

    Move the white sliders up and down the color spectrum to view different swatches.

    Select one of the Pantone Color Swatches to choose it as the spot color.
  6. Set the Solidity to 100% in the New Spot Channel dialog, then select OK.

The Solidarity setting simulates on-screen density of the printed spot color. It affects only on-screen previews and composite printouts; it doesn't affect the color separations.

Set the Solidity to 100% in the New Spot Channel dialog, then select OK.

In the Channels palette, you'll see a new channel labeled with the name of the spot color you chose.

To pick a different color or adjust the solidarity, double-click the the spot color thumbnail in the Channels panel.

How to Apply Spot Color in Photoshop

Use the Brush tool or other editing tools to add spot color to the image. Paint with black to add spot color at 100 percent opacity, or paint with gray to add spot color with less opacity.

To make editing easier, hide the other color channels from view by clicking the Eye next to their thumbnails in the Channels palette.

How to Save an Image With a Spot Color in Photoshop

Save the completed image as either a PDF or DCS 2.0 file to preserve the spot color information. When you import the PDF or DCS file into a page layout application, the spot color is imported. 

Depending on what you need to appear in the spot color, you may prefer to set it up in the page layout program. For example, if only a headline is destined to print in spot color, it can be set in the layout program directly. However, if you need to add a company logo to an image, creating spot color channels in Photoshop is the way to go.