As printers, color is a big deal to us. Often times, we find ourselves trying to explain what different color systems are, how they are used, and why one color might look different from screen to print.
This post is your one stop guide to understanding color modes and how they make a difference in print & design projects.
Pantone Matching System
PMS or Pantone colors are the most precise measurement of color because they are made from pre-mixed ink, ensuring the most accurate print possible.
“The Pantone colour guides have been widely adopted and are used by artists, designers, printers, manufacturers, marketers and clients in all industries worldwide for accurate colour identification, design specification, quality control and communication.” Pantone-colours
While printing with PMS colors is generally more expensive, it ensures that your brand is maintained to the highest degree possible. Because of the cost, pantone colors are best used as a spot color with black and white.
CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (Black). This is the most widely used color system for printing because it requires less time, set-up, and money to print.
“CMYK colors are mixed during the printing process itself. Layers of CMYK ink are laid in varying densities to create tonal differences. CMYK can create a wide range of colors, so it is primarily used for full color printing.” Sonnie, Design the Planet
When picking colors for a project or brand, we always recommend referencing a PMS swatch book, then print the closest CMYK equivalent. While some PMS colors simply can’t be exactly duplicated, the CMYK process will closely approximate your PMS colors.
RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue. The RGB system is used to color light, which is much different than coloring ink or paint.
“When combined, red and green light rays produce yellow, blue and green produce cyan, red and blue produce magenta. Red, green and blue mix to create white (light).” Color Systems, colormatters.com
RGB is the system used on screen displays like your phone, TV, computer monitor, and on theaters screens. Printing in RGB will, in almost every case, produce undesired color shifts.
Material Affects Color
One thing that can be difficult to predict is how the material that is being printed on will affect the print color. Printing on a high gloss material, for example, will increase color contrast and make dark colors seem darker. Likewise, printing on an uncoated or matte surface can make colors seem a bit dull. On the same note, special mask coatings like spot UV, Endless Metallics (or some other metallic treatment), or luster will obviously change the way we perceive the printed color because it is treated to look glossy, shimmery, or shiny in specific areas. Finally the slight tint of different papers can make the same print file look totally different after production.