Printing Definitions: What Does 4/4, 4/1, 4/0, and 1/1 Mean?

Printing TerminologyPrinting, like many other industries, has developed a unique set of terms that serve as shorthand for a number of techniques and processes. This makes it easier to communicate by standardizing the language and eliminating possible ambiguity or misinterpretation.

When working with a printer, you might have encountered a variety of terms that might be unclear to you, such as 4/4, 4/1, 4/0, 1/1 or 1/0. Numbers usually refer to sizes, but in this particular case, these specific terms represent different color processes used for print jobs.

Four-Color Printing vs. Spot Printing

These terms are based on traditional four-color printing, also known as CMYK. Cyan (blue), magenta (red), yellow and black (or key) are printed in small dots at various angles that blend to create a wide spectrum of colors. On the other hand, spot printing involves the use of single colors as defined by the Pantone Matching System (PMS).

Printing Term Definitions

The numerical printing terms are used to designate which process will be used for a particular job.

  • 4/4 (pronounced “four over four”) means that 4 color printing or 4 over 4 printing will be used on both sides of a printed piece.
  • 4/1 (“four over one”) means that one side will feature four-color printing while the other side has one color. The single color is usually black, but it could be a selection from the PMS.
  • 4/0 (“four over zero) refers to a piece that has four-color printing on one side but is completely blank on the other.
  • 1/1 (“one over one”) has a single color on each side of the piece.
  • 1/0 (“one over zero”) is a single color backed by a blank side.

Advantages and Disadvantages

  • Since it’s based on a universally used color palette, spot printing is more accurate, while four-color printing can have minor differences from one printer to another. Spot printing is recommended for elements such as logos where consistency is crucial.
  • Spot printing is virtually impossible to replicate on digital printers, which are in wide use today.
  • Reproduction of color photographs can be done only with four-color printing, whereas special effects like metallic and fluorescent call for spot printing.
  • If you are using only one or two colors, spot printing is more cost-effective. When using several colors, four-color printing can be less expensive due to the limited number of presses required.
  • Four-color printing is most effective on coated stock. With uncoated or textured stock, the lack of contrast can result less crispness in the printed image.
  • Some print jobs use a fifth color, such as those that include full-color photographs but also incorporate a logo or affects that require spot color.

Color adds vibrancy and visual appeal to your printed materials, so it’s important to use the right process. An experienced trade printer can help you weigh the pros and cons of both techniques.


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