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Kiss cut sticker, digitally printed in full colour
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Full colour vinyl stickers, with paddle

What are Full-Colour Stickers?

By David Willis © 2019

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Sticker printers have their own set of words to describe what they do. In this article I try to explain the meaning of full colour stickers, and show the difference between full colour and spot colour printing.

What do we mean by Full Colour Stickers?

full colour vinyl stickers with paddle

Full colour stickers are those printed using the process colour methodology, otherwise known as CMYK colour production. Using a combination of only 4 colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK, over 1 million colour combinations can be created, allowing the reproduction of colour photos and virtually any colour image.

With the advancement of digital inkjet printing most short-run sticker printers now produce their stickers in full-colour.

It is worth nothing, however, that most digital CMYK printers do not print white, but assume that the media itself is white. Therefore, any white in the sticker design, will not come from the inks but from the base material (i.e. vinyl or paper) that is white.

What is the alternative to Full Colour Stickers?

Printing stickers has evolved over the years. Traditional sticker printing used spot colours, such as Pantone colours, as the default production method. Spot colours are essentially a limited set of pre-defined colours.

The useful aspect of spot colours is that because colour choice is limited to a defined colour chart colour-matching is faciliated. Don't think the colour choice is restrictive, though, as the list of colours can be quite extensive as in the case of Pantone. Only with certain sticker printers, such as thermal vinyl printers are the number of colours limited. An example would be the Gerber Edge thermal printer, used to produce vinyl stickers where the number of colours is limited to approximately 30.

full colour vinyl stickers, kiss cut

What are the advantages of Full Colour Stickers over Spot Colour Stickers?

1. Full colour stickers are more economical to produce while the quantities remain low.

2. Full colour stickers can be printed at high resolution and are best used where the stickers have used shading, gradients or photo style graphics.

What are the disadvantages of Full Colour Stickers compared to Spot Colour Stickers?

1. Full colour printing cannot usually print white, and where digital printers do print white, the white is not a very good white, but rather an off-white (either a grey or cream white). Therefore, full colour stickers are often restricted to white media, where the white in the sticker comes from the media itself and not the inks.

2. Full colour printing is unable to print special-effect colours such as fluorescents or metallics. These special colours are restricted to spot colour printing.

3. Full colour printing becomes uneconomical at high quantities. At high quantities screen printing is best used (although the print quality is reduced when stickers are screen printed).

4. Full colour stickers when printed digitally can scratch or have the inks rubbed off if they are not laminated. This is especially the case if printed onto gloss media. The answer to this is to laminate these stickers. Lamination is the process of covering the inks with a film of transparent vinyl.

David Willis
David Willis
This article was written by David Willis, a print entrepreneur and respected industry expert.

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