Monday, June 9, 2014

Pantone - Spot Colors or PMS Colors Verses CMYK

Pantone - Spot Colors Verses CMYK
I’m going to talk about color or as us Brit’s spell it colour.

Our eye is marvelous, scientists claim that we’re capable of seeing 10 million shades, and some animals, such as tropical fish and birds, can see colors that we cannot.  In fact bees can even see into the ultraviolet.

Our world is in color, but matching colors can be very frustrating.  You know how hard it is to match a paint color, or even choosing a paint color, you think it’s the perfect color, take it home do a swatch or a whole wall and horror of horrors it is not what you thought.  How about with yarn, you run out of yarn and find the original dye lot is no longer on sale, how frustrating is that?

My world is print, that’s my every day 9:00 to 5:00 job I live in that world, well actually 8:30 am to 5:00pm.  There are so many variables in the print world that I am going to just smudge on the surface of this.

But how do we duplicate in print all those colors we see, well of course we can’t, here is where Pantone Spot Colors and CMYK come in.

We ask the question is your project in CMYK or PMS.

PMS stands for Pantone Matching System (PMS), a proprietary color space used in a variety of industries, primarily printing, though sometimes in the manufacture of colored paint, fabric, and plastics. 

In the Pantone Plus Formula Guide there are 1,341 colors then add the Pantone Plus Extra which gives you another 336 colors, now you are up to 1,677 colors.  On top of this you have Pantone Plus Premium Metallic, Pantone Plus Pastels and Neon’s.

These Pantone color guide swatches, I’m sure you have seen are very expensive to buy, but if you were to buy only one  you should get Pantone Plus Color Bridge which gives you Spot Color to CMYK equivalent.

So you may ask what is CMYK?

CMYK is made up out of:

Process Cyan
Process Magenta
Process Yellow
Process Black

Some spot colors are very hard to render in CMYK one is Navy Blue, it will look kind of purple, somewhat grey, and other hard colors to render in CMYK are bright orange, neon and metallic colors.  CMYK colors tend to look a dull version of a spot color, but not always. 

Another interesting thing about color is that some countries have pallets of color, we all think of Provence in France, their color palette being a certain shade of yellow and blue and in our mind we can visualize that. 

DIC which is created by Dainippon Ink is used in Asia.  It has what they call a theme series including Japanese Traditional Colors. So, those are colors that have been used throughout history in Japan. And French Traditional Colors and Chinese Traditional Colors. So, that's sort of an interesting approach to create a theme, using a dedicated pallet to that country.

In my print world some of our greatest woes happen when a designer designs this amazing piece that looks great on a screen, but does not consult the printer as to how this will be executed, what type of paper stock this should be printed on i.e., coated verses uncoated, which will totally alter the vibrancy of the color, or build colors in CMYK that should really be spot colors; this is when the printer wrings his hands, stands on his head and does cartwheels saying “why didn’t they consult us before designing this piece”  happens all the time.  We have in house designers who know the exact programs that these files should be designed in and it’s not Photoshop.  Also some design pieces with just minor changes in the artwork could be printed much more cost effectively.

I digress, because I just wanted to stick with color.  So I will conclude with a poem by Christina Rosetti  named Color.


What is pink? a rose is pink
By a fountain's brink.
What is red? a poppy's red
In its barley bed.
What is blue? the sky is blue
Where the clouds float thro'.
What is white? a swan is white
Sailing in the light.
What is yellow? pears are yellow,
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? the grass is green,
With small flowers between.
What is violet? clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? Why, an orange,
Just an orange!



  1. Thinking of all those colours is a mind-blowing. The trouble with designers in any business is they often don't know how the things they design are made so their wonderful designs are not practical.

  2. That was very interesting! I bought my daughter a set of postcards that show the Pantone colours, and she likes to take them out and look at them. Her favourite thing to do is to pick up some of the free test strips if we're in a big hardware store. She uses them to make all sorts of things! I didn't realise that the business of printing was so complex.


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