Color basics: What is a PMS color and why does it matter?

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You are meeting with a sign company or printer and they ask the dreaded question: “What is your company’s Pantone (PMS) color?” Ummm, blue? No, navy blue. Wait, it’s actually a dark navy blue… Well, you are right. Your print professional is asking because they are trying to ensure a consistency of your brand. Basically, so all your materials match. We take your colors very seriously. As seriously as Kim Kardashian takes selfies. Very. Serious. So, what exactly is Pantone?

The Pantone Color Matching System is a standardized color reproduction system. By standardizing the colors, different manufacturers, suppliers and printers in different locations can all refer to the Pantone chips to make sure colors match. By having a selected PMS color, your manufacturer can then use that swatch to compare their vinyl, paint and digital print colors. So, how does this apply? First we need a quick color definition breakdown:

RGB: = Screen Viewing. Monitors, TVs and Mobile Devices
It’s easy to use your screen to try and find a color, but it is probably the least effective way to choose colors. Monitor colors are based on Red, Green and Blue (RGB),We can get into the specifics of RGB, and the visual light spectrum, but to keep it simple, your color looks different on varying monitors, TVs and mobile devices. So, picking a color in MS Paint, Corel or Word and sending over the RGB values based on what you are seeing on the screen, leaves a lot of variance and inaccuracy in the final product.


NOTE: If you truly want your mind blown, check out this video: @MuralJoe is an absolute color master, and you will see how complex color is.

CMYK: = Offset and Digital Printing

Most all printed materials produced are based on the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK) model. This is basically done by halftoning a percentage of each color into an overlapping dot pattern to give the appearance of the desired color. This is what a sample breakdown may look like: 40C 5M 50Y 5K, in some of your programs. You would think, “Great, if that is for printing, then I can just send that over to my manufacturer.” Well, not really, if you are still picking your color from your screen, what you are seeing is not necessarily what would be printed. Light vs. Pigment. Do a quick test – Print your logo on a printer that you have handy. Then look at it compared to your screen. If you are really bored, or just need to get away from the office, run home and print it on your home printer, then
compare all 3. You’ll see the difference. This is also dependent on the file type – jpg, eps, ai, swg, tif, pdf, but that is a whole different blog post in itself.


Pantone = Everything.
It is music to our ears when a customer comes back and says “Our color is PMS 465 Beige”. Pure Gold. With that number, we can accurately match our Pantone color chip to any other color model. Sherwin Williams paint, Behr, Valspar, digital prints, vinyl colors, everything! Then everything will match, the image you are trying to portray through your brand, will not be diluted from a front sign that doesn’t match the business card you are handing out, or the vehicle wrap that you just had installed (for a large chunk of your budget). So, what do you do if you don’t know (or have) your PMS color?

The easiest thing for you to do is compare any printed item you may have, a business card, flyer, corporate mailing, etc. to any standardized color system. A paint color, paint chip book, PMS chart, anything that someone else can cross reference, that is standard. So, if you ran into Lowes with your business card and matched a color to it, your creative professional would be able to take “Desert Green” and match it to their PMS book, as closely as possible. Keep in mind, the best way to keep your colors clean is to go back to the originating designer or corporate marketing team and request the PMS color. More than likely they will be happy to share because we designers geek out over color. and the consistency of your brand This work around can be used in cases where the original designer didn’t assign a PMS color, or, maybe moved to Sydney. Just remember: we aren’t asking these questions to be difficult, we care about your color. Always be sure to approve your selected colors with your professional before moving the project into production. Happy coloring!