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What's the Difference Between Pantone, CMYK, and RGB Colors?

Igor Ovsyannykov April 11, 2024 · 11 min read

Using the right color is crucial for establishing a strong, emotion-packed message to the world. Colorful materials are captivating. Regardless of whether your customers call for flyers, promotional mail, fund-raising ad banners or brochures — choosing the right color or color combination is important for brand recognition and message impact. Based on a recent marketing study, color boosts brand recognition by over 80%. Just think of Coca-Cola or McDonald’s. Do these products’ vivid, energetic colors stand out to you? This is the purpose of choosing the right colors for your brand — instant recall and recognition. And still, the importance of having great, consistent colors is more than just for brand recognition. The same study remarked that colors can enhance a person’s state of understanding:

  • Reading – 40%
  • Reading comprehension – 73%
  • Learning – 55 to 68%

These statistics are convincing. Businesses needing print projects are asking for top quality color, and the functionality to keep it constant, regardless of the application. As a result, the drive for better, more cost-effective electronic color management tools is more than a trend these days. The good thing is these devices have grown to be just that: more economical and more versatile. Nowadays, any company can obtain a color solution to match its financial resources and business goals. With today’s sophisticated color management technologies, consumers don’t have to settle on account of color constraints. Having the right color isn’t just feasible, it’s now also reasonably priced. Understanding how color palettes work is a fundamental element of any project, particularly in graphic design. The psychology of color helps businesses fully grasp how marketing tools like websites and flyers are thought of by consumers. The medium isn’t really the main point – whether online or in print, you’d like your marketing elements and branding to be sharp and recognizable. With regards to picking out colors, you have to be cautious to work with the right ones on the structure of your project. The terms Pantone (or PMS), CMYK, and RGB are frequently used throughout discussions about print. Exactly what do these terms mean? How can they impact your business?

Pantone (PMS)

Pantone Autumn Colors by Gaia GarufiPantone Autumn Colors by Gaia Garufi

Pantone colors are associated with a color matching system, the Pantone Matching System. This is where inks are created into distinct shades. These colors are then printed out in a color-matching swatch book. Quite a few processed hues are grueling to produce via process printing, particularly some shades of orange and green, so utilizing a Pantone color guarantees a consistent color match. Projects can be printed on five or six color-presses applying the four process colors in addition to one or two Pantone colors (spot) to make a decisive color match.


Perspectives by Jonny AshcroftPerspectives by Jonny Ashcroft

CMYK pertains to the four ink colors applied to color printing:

  • C- Cyan (a light-blue hue)
  • M- Magenta (a pinkish red)
  • Y- Yellow
  • K – BlacK

In a four-color printing process, all four colors contain mixtures of dots in CMYK.


RGB Wave by Stefan HurlemannRGB Wave by Stefan Hurlemann

RGB means Red, Green, and Blue. These shades are the primary colors you see whenever you look at photos on your computer screen or digital camera. The colorations comprise the mixture of these three shades. In the color printing process, these underlying tones must be changed into CMYK.

Critical Color Variations

It’s imperative you understand a key variation between CMYK and RGB.

  • CMYK colors operate by subtracting or soaking up light reflected on a white sheet of paper. Devoid of ink on the paper, all the lights are mirrored back to the eye, and so the paper appears to be white.
  • RGB colors are additive shades. Your PC monitor is black, so light is incorporated to generate color. The screen will appear white if all three shades are boosted at a 100% density.

Because of the two distinct color specifications, colors appear completely different on your computer monitor than they will on a piece of paper once printed. Also, no two display screens show colors the same, which bring additional complexities to color design and printing. Since what’s viewed on the PC monitor isn’t identical to the printed page, web or graphic designers typically use Pantone colors as a standard reference point. Later, based on whether the project will be uploaded online or used as a printed element, they convert the Pantone shade to either CMYK or RGB. For printed projects with a coloration that must be an exact match, that tone is retained as a Pantone color and processed as a fifth color on the press. However, this extra step raises the cost due to the extra plates, set-up period and effort, and wash-up time. For SMB, the need for an identical color match must be assessed against the additional price tag.

A Closer Inspection

A closer Look

1. The Pantone Color Model

The Pantone is a coloration spot that specifies a random variety of shades that don’t represent a particular color model. The Pantone Matching System, a widely-used tool, is used on the majority of standard printers to replicate tones and graphics through a standardized guideline. To preserve consistency, Pantone shades are utilized as a baseline for practically everything — from branded trademarks to national flags. Given that Pantone is a baseline that can be reproduced, you can compare and match your paper selection to an ideal color rendering using the Pantone Matching System. This detail is handy in establishing print consistency all through your sheets of paper. Also, with any PC publishing application, you may create your personal conversion of the Pantone color. To make it even easier, you can refer to the LCI Paper Ultimate Color Conversion Chart. Newbies dealing with color printing process can be lost with the many jargons used in this method. For Pantone colors, here are some of the most commonly used terms and their definitions:

  • Color Space – the rendering of a particular variety of distinct colors that maps shade standards in a color model
  • Color Model – the appearance of hues in a color space
  • Gamut – the scale or depth of a particular color space
  • Moire Pattern – a disturbance design caused by color screens laid on a particular angle. With color process printing, these are unavoidable yet usually so tight that they’re unrecognizable to the human eye

Remember the problem of having no two monitors showing identical colors? This could be averted by selecting a precise Pantone color for your company’s colors. For instance, the red color you want for your project may be the actual red you’d like for the ink of your printed promo items. However, the red at the printing press is a bit too light for what you want. Using a Pantone color and its system, printed promo items will all have identical shade since each hue is allocated a number to enable easy color match as long as the Pantone Matching System is used.

2. The CMYK Color Model

The majority of home-grade, consumer, and commercial printers go with CMYK inks shades to print texts and images. CMYK coloring is a “subtractive†color model. This means the ink must be taken out to have lighter hues using the lightest shades you can get using the surface you’re printing on. There is no need to blend ink colors to produce a standard black shade. However, the chromatic black, another basic black shade, is created using the combined colors devoid of the black ink. When the four-color process is done, each shade is set on the sheet of paper individually, and then padded. Try zooming in on a printed picture and you’ll notice little dots of color (half-toning) padded over one another. This padding of tiny dots is what translates into the impression of a solid. To avoid offsetting or producing moire patterns, every ink must be printed at a distinct angle. The dots must be perfectly aligned too. Commercial color offset printing presses, top-quality color laser printers, and home printer designed for printing photos benefit from the CMYK color model. Several ink jet image printers contain extra inkjet cartridges for a lighter Cyan and Magenta, as well as different shades of Black. These additional inks are handy for sleeker color changes, particularly when aiming for an ultra-crisp, lab-quality images.

3. The RGB Color Model

Electronic representations of pictures and graphics are often created implementing light in the RGB color model. The Red-Green-Blue model is a light additive component, which means shades must be incorporated together to create lighter tones. When the three colors are maximized to 100% and then combined, you’ll get a solid white. When you add Red and Green to this absolute white, you’ll get Yellow. Adding Green and Blue create Cyan. Incorporating Red and Blue produce Magenta. Regardless if you’re reading this post on an old CRT or a new LED screen, the PC monitor maps color with a combination of RGB. When every one of the pixels glow to maximum intensity, your screen turns white, when every pixel is off, your monitor turns black, and any shade in between is produced by pixels lit up in various values.

Implementing This Color Knowledge

Design Office

When you’re working with a graphic or a web designer and a printing personnel, make sure to provide the correct type of file and profile color for the intended project. This ensures the most accurate color or color combination and averts tone problems. While most vendors can alter a file from one shade structure to another, some color printing systems can’t cope with an inaccurate format so it may incorrectly render data. When creating your new company logo or brand identity, it’s ideal to outline your color in all three color models. You can ask for a professional’s help – like a graphic designer – to determine these combinations. Take into account that some tones convert easier across different systems than others. In every aspect, continuity is critical for small businesses. If your target market doesn’t recognize your company logo from one product to the next, then you’re basically tossing your marketing funds out the door.

Quick Color Takeaways

Pantone, CMYK, and RGB pertain to three distinct varieties of color standards commonly used in both online design and printing industries. While it can be challenging at the outset, it’s wise to learn at least the basics, especially if you’re in charge of your company’s marketing strategies. Speak with printing personnel and graphic or web designers if you’re unsure about the best way to use these color models. Here are the primary takeaways to keep in mind:

  • RGB incorporates light to combine colors on PC monitors for digital viewing.
  • CMYK works with ink to combine colors on sheets of paper or other tangible things.
  • Steer clear of the RGB model for printed projects since PC monitor settings are different with the real shades we see. The colors on your PC are more vivid than on print.
  • Look for a Pantone color that most closely fits your company’s signature colors, so you don’t have to settle for having 50 shades of blue (or any color) for your printed projects.

The Power of Color in Business

Color and Psycology

The bounds of color matching and tone manipulation continuously develop in high-end organizations, especially since traditional print service vendors migrate to becoming advertising service providers. The latter demands consistent branding. Consistent color supports a solid branding by establishing a common look and feel throughout a variety of marketing channels. The right color management can guarantee that materials are saturated for correct visibility, brochures and flyers look organic, and even printed fabrics look just about right. To create a captivating brand color for your company, you need to: one, understand how these color models work; and two, collaborate with a reputable service provider that produces the right, consistent, color you need across the board. Smart color management results in improvements and innovations in process control, which reduces production time – and consequently boost the net profit of any business regardless of its size. Your business competitors are seeking to power up client satisfaction, decrease production time and waste, and minimize business economics. Deciding on the best color path, the right resources, and the right provider helps your company attain a more colorful marketing strategy.

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About the Author
Igor Ovsyannykov

We create fonts, graphics, and produce aesthetically pleasing photos.

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