1. Why do I need to know this?
Phrases like ‘Brand integrity’, ‘Impact’, or just plain old ‘Because that’s our company colour!’ are the reasons you should be interested in Pantone. If you want all your printing materials to show the same colours across everything you print – and to be printed in the correct colour – then a basic understanding of what Pantone is and how to use it will serve you well.
2. Go on then – what is it?
It’s a way printers standardise their colours so they can understand precisely what each colour looks like. It’s therefore also a way that marketers, print buyers (and anyone else who is a guardian of the company brand and printing quality) can communicate exact colours to their printing services provider.
“If you need something printing and want a way to define a colour so that everyone understands (printer, designer, cleaner – everyone) then you need to describe it as a pantone colour reference.”
3. But my printer uses CMYK (process) colours.
They sure do. And they can refer to Pantone guides to help them work out how to reproduce over 3000 colours by mixing cyan, magenta, yellow and black. However, they can’t reproduce them all using CMYK. Many ‘standard’ colours and other special colours like metallics or fluorescents have to be printed with special inks because they’re impossible to reproduce accurately using process colours. Your friendly printing services company will be able to advise you on which colours will work in CMYK and which might have to be reproduced as a special colour.
4. So how do I find and use a Pantone Reference?
Pantone sell swatches of cards which display all their colours, so you can find whichever colour you’re interested in and the corresponding Pantone reference number from there. Once you have the reference number for your ink, your printing partner will be in no doubt which colour you’re talking about. But note, Pantone swatches cost a packet, need renewing pretty regularly (the cards yellow and fade over time) and are also dependent on the paper being used (if you print on matte paper, you’ll need a swatch specific to matte papers). Your best bet is to find a printing services company who own swatches, or speak to your designer who can probably identify the colour reference you need. Or you could try the pantone app for iPhone or iPod Touch which has a colour matching system (though we can’t vouch for its accuracy!)
The current pantone colour of the year is Pantone 18-2120 Honesuckle. And you thought it was just pink?!?
5. So what will my printing services partner do with the reference?
There’s a formula next to each Pantone number. This indicates to a printer how to make the colour from either CMYK (process) colours or a % mix of particular inks to print as an additional colour. So once you know the Pantone number, you should (in theory at least) get a consistent ink colour, whichever printing provider you go to. Of course, whether that happens in practise very much depends on the quality of your printer and their eye for detail!
So that’s our whistle-stop guide to Pantone. We’ll be following up with an article on using Pantone in practice to look at the pitfalls of Pantone and CMYK reproduction. In the meantime, if you need any further information or help with managing colour in your print projects, please just fill out the form below and we'll get things back on track.