How to Preserve Spot Colors in Photoshop

About Spot Colors

Open spottest.eps in Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop is most often used in its RGB color mode for screen display or CMYK color mode for print, but it can handle spots colors as well. Spot colors are premixed inks that are used in the 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 in logos, where the color must be exactly the same no matter where the logo occurs. The 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 press, they are treated as spot colors in Photoshop files.

If you are designing an image that must print with one or more spot ink colors, you can create spot channels in Photoshop to store the colors. The file must be saved in DCS 2.0 format or in PDF format before it is exported to preserve the spot color. The image can then be placed in a page layout program with the spot color information intact.

How to Create a New Spot Channel in Photoshop

With your Photoshop file open, create a new spot channel.

  1. Click Window on the menu bar and select Channels from the drop-down menu to open the Channels panel.
  2. Use the Selection tool to select an area for the spot color or load a selection.
  3. Choose New Spot Color from the Channels panel menu, or Ctrl+click in Windows or Command+click in macOS the New Channel button on the Channels panel. The selected area fills with the current specified spot color and the New Spot Channel dialog opens.
  4. Click the Color box in the New Spot Channel dialog, which opens the Color Picker panel.
  5. In the Color Picker, click on Color Libraries to choose a color system. In the U.S., most printing companies use one of the Pantone Color modes. Select Pantone Solid Coated or Pantone Solid Uncoated from the drop-down menu, unless you receive a different specification from your commercial printer.
  6. Click on one of the Pantone Color Swatches to select it as the spot color. The name is entered in the New Spot Channel dialog.
  7. Change the Solidity setting to a value between zero and 100 percent. This 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. Close the Color Picker and New Spot Channel dialog and save the file.
  1. In the Channels panel, you'll see a new channel labeled with the name of the spot color you chose.

How to Edit a Spot Color Channel

To edit a spot color channel in Photoshop, you first select the spot channel in the Channels panel.

  • Use a Brush or other editing tool to add to the spot color image. Paint with black to add more spot color at 100 percent opacity or paint with gray to add spot color with less opacity. The screen displays the spot color.
  • Erase anything on the spot color channel with the Eraser tool. 
  • Use the Type tool to add text in spot color ink.

Changing a Channel's Spot Color

  1. In the Channels panel, double-click the spot channel thumbnail.
  2. Click in the Color box and choose a new color.
  3. Enter a Solidity value between 0 percent and 100 percent to simulate the way the spot color will print. This setting does not affect color separations.

Tip: Turn off the CMYK layers, if any, by clicking on the Eye icon next to the CMYK thumbnail in the Channels panel. This makes it easier to see what is actually on the spot color channel.

Saving an Image With a Spot Color

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. 

Note: 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. There's no need to do the work in Photoshop. However, if you need to add a company logo in a spot color to a man's cap in an image, Photoshop is the way to go.