Pantone Vs CMYK

The subject of print colours, for most non designers, is a tad cloaked in mystery. At least they begin to conclude that it is when I start explaining that the colours you see on your pc screen are not the same as print colours.

The web colour spectrum is RGB and print colours are typically CMYK and Pantone. Are you with me still?

I’ve tried quite hard to bring clarity to this for the benefit of my clients. I feel it’s my duty to educate clients on printing processes, where some other designers disagree and say clients shouldn’t have to think about things like this.

It’s my opinion that the client is the decision maker (or should be) and how can they make good decisions for their brand if they aren’t sufficiently informed to do so.

Marketing materials have a huge impact on the success of a business and I want to ensure there are no shocks when customers receive their printed items.

Below is an extract from our technical page explaining the difference between CMYK and Pantone colours for printing purposes:

CMYK Colour Printing
(Also called ‘process colours’ – and used with digital printing)
Colour is produced on your choice of printed material (paper, vinyl, cardboard, fabric and so on……..) by mixing four separate ink colours:

Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMYK).

Using this method can mean that when printing many copies of the same artwork, as is common with business cards and other forms of stationary, some areas of colour may not appear completely consistent, consistency is affected by ink density, temperature, paper quality, and when using CMYK the colour can differ between printing companies. Generally though in my experience the differences are very small.

If it’s a cmyk colour print you have commissioned with your printing firm (very popular now as this is the method digital printing uses, and digital printing is very competitively priced and allows short runs) you can view the colours in a PDF document of your final print layout design (the design that we provide you with)- you must print the design out in ‘best’ quality from your office printing machine to view the colours.

If you do this you will find that the print run should be pretty close to these as your office printer will print out using the CMYK printing method……however we can’t guarantee they will be exactly the same as paper type and the laminating process (commonly used with business cards) or gloss paper can change the shade slightly on printed colours, as well as the heat at the time of print and so on.

Pantone Colour Printing
(Also described as ‘spot colour printing’)
If you wish to ensure that your logo design or graphic design colour will print exactly the same on every single printed copy you can specify what is called a ‘spot colour’, they are also guaranteed to look the same no matter which firm prints them.

There are a few spot colour systems available, but the industry standard is the Pantone Matching System, each Pantone colour has a code – for example PANTONE DS 221 – 8U is a pale blue colour; colours can be selected from swatch books that display these colours and list the codes for each one (remember that when looking at a pantone colour on a computer monitor it can look different from when printed and different depending on which monitor you are looking at, and only by viewing a ‘swatch book’ can you see the actual colour as it will print).

Another factor to bear in mind is that ink will look different if it’s printed on a matte paper as opposed to glossy paper – but often printers will have a ‘glossy swatch book’ and a ‘matte swatch book’ showing your chosen pantone colour on each type of paper, some printers will have further swatches available such as your colour in ‘metallic’.

You cannot view Pantone colours by printing a design file from your own office printer as an office printer only prints in cmyk – therefore if you wanted Pantone printing the only way to select the colours is to go into a printing shop and look at their Pantone colour books. Obviously if you don’t use a printer in your locality (selecting remote online printing firms is very popular) you can’t look at a colour chart and select your colours from this.

So Which Is Best?

– Specific colours which are consistent no matter who prints them.
– Vibrancy of colour that you can’t get with CMYK.

– Will need to select a local printing firm so that you can view their swatch books in the flesh; ie lower cost online print providers in other areas of the country will be closed to you because if you can’t choose the Pantone shade in the flesh with them, you cannot select Pantone colours because you can’t choose them via your pc screen.
– You will not be able to have a low cost short run digital printing service; meaning you will have to have larger printing runs that you may actually want or need if you are small business.
– Offline printing companies can often be more expensive for the same job because obviously they are factoring in the cost of your ‘face to face’ consultation and looking at swatch books with them.

– Low cost printing in multiple (limitless) colours because you can opt for digital printing.
– To be able to order this online with a low cost digital print provider, these tend of offer lower cost printing services and of course digital printing allows short runs for small orders.

– Lack of colour vibrancy … some colours can be a tad dull compared to what Pantone can offer.
– Cannot guarantee exact consistency of colours.

Hopefully this will help you make a decision about your printing!

Designing for the masses

Design is possibly the most subjective industry to work in. Everyone has their own opinions on your work and are always free to advise on how things should be done!

In my opinion there is never one right answer to a design brief but instead good design is all about relationships and communication. Relationships with your client and communicating their vision to once again establish a relationship with the target audience.