man holding pantone color guide

Ways You’re Using Pantone Wrong: Fact vs. Myth

Ever get a shock when your design came out the wrong color? In light of the 2016 Pantone colors of the year, Rose Quartz and Serenity, we are celebrating the unique duo with some advice when using this powerful tool.

A lot of folks know that Pantone® is a color matching system. What you may not know is that Pantone colors are a special brand of inks used at professional printing companies that have the equipment to create an exact color. Each single color is hand-mixed from a recipe and individually printed. Unless you’re using real Pantone ink, you’re not really Pantone matching.

Everyone can benefit from picking Pantone colors to officially represent their brand. Avoid these common myths and your designs will come out beautifully every time.

Myth 1: You Can Use Normal Inks to Match Pantone Swatches

A CMYK printer uses 4 basic ink colors and mixes them to produce a full-color piece. This is the kind of printer you’re going to encounter 99% of the time, both with professional vendors and in your own office.

You can print a piece with both Pantone ink and CMYK on the same machine, as long as the machine has that ability (each ink is called a “spot color“). However, a lot of folks think you can use CMYK ink alone to match a Pantone color.

C=Cyan M=Magenta Y=Yellow K=Black

The fact is, CMYK colors only match Pantone 55% of the time, and that’s only if you do it right. Trying to use CMYK inks to imitate a Pantone color can be frustrating.  The same file can look like a different color on one CMYK printer vs. another. Because of this, the only way to truly ensure a match is trial and error. This can definitely be done, but it depends on if your printer is willing to do it. Most likely, the cheap bulk printing websites won’t provide this service, but if you have a vendor with real personal-touch customer service, they can help. Be aware that big printing presses are expensive machines that are running constantly, so a lot of printers have a hefty minimum order that doesn’t budge.

There’s good news: This doesn’t mean you can’t approximate the color in CMYK. You definitely can! CYMK can get pretty close, there is just no 100% guarantee.

Tip: When setting up your print files for a CMYK printer, don’t use an official Pantone color in the file. Find a CMYK version you feel is close when printed. Pantone sells conversion swatch books that will give you their suggestion for what to use. A print shop with great customer service can help make sure what they produce is as close as possible as well.

A quick rule of thumb: If your artwork is a full-color design, containing things like photos, or gradients, you’re most likely needing to use a CMYK printer. Pantone inks don’t do well with blending or shades as they have to use a visible halftone effect.

Myth 2: Pantone Swatches Can Be Used Digitally

Printed Pantone swatches and the Pantone colors on your computer can’t match exactly. The colors in Photoshop (and all design programs) can vary, and were not designed to be a great visual equivalent. They may be close, but often you’ll see a difference. Your blue might be too purple, or your red may be too bright.

R=Red G=Green B=Blue

The fact is, everyone’s computer screens and settings are different, and the way that a color looks on a paper swatch will never be quite the way a color looks on a screen. Digital screens use a color profile called RGB. With a different color mixing method, the results can be expected to be often mismatched.

Tip:  Find a close RGB version of your color and use it consistently for your website and all of your digital marketing. Pantone’s official conversion swatch books can help here too. Keep in mind, it may not look the same from screen to screen.

Myth 3: Pantone Colors will Look the Same on Any Material

If you’re using real Pantone ink, you’re good to go, right? But don’t forget to consider what you’re printing on. Suddenly, you might be asking yourself, “Why doesn’t my logo look the same on vinyl as it does on metal?”

The fact is, the material you choose could affect the shade of ink. Some materials are darker, more translucent, or more absorbent than others. A professional vendor should be able to help you get it closer to the color you want, but be prepared for a difference. Sometimes there’s just not much you can do. For example, perforated vinyl is simply less vibrant than regular vinyl.

Tip: For unusual or dark materials like metal and wood, an undercoat of white will help. Generally, white paper shows color splendidly. Pantone provides a different ink for Coated (C) and Uncoated (U) papers. Pick a Pantone number for both versions ahead of time and use the one that’s right for your project. Keep in mind that Uncoated will probably look less vibrant, and sometimes will be a different number than the Coated version.

Myth 4: Pantone Colors are Super Affordable

So, CMYK not cutting it? Make sure you’re paying for actual Pantone brand ink. When properly used, the results are fantastic! Before you do though, make sure you research the costs.

The fact is, when it comes to printing on paper, Pantone ink is for big budget projects. Each ink has to be specially mixed, and takes up a whole color slot in the printing press. There’s only so many slots on the machine, so multiple colors can really stack up the price.

There are many ways to end up with rich colors and design without dropping a lot of cash on Pantone colors. So, if your budget doesn’t allow for specialty mixed ink, have no fear. A great design company will make sure that you are using great colors no matter what your budget is.

Tip: Pantone colors are usually cheap and normal for certain items like monument signs and promotional merchandise. These vendors will be used to using Pantone and won’t charge you an arm and a leg, though their color choices may be limited. If you’re not sure if this is something your vendor offers, you can always ask.

Something that we can all agree on is that finding the perfect color can be tricky. That’s why hiring a professional designer with a trained eye and the skill to pinpoint your brand color is important.

If you are looking for someone to help you decide on colors that are right for you, feel free to contact us.