Colour Consistency: The Pantone Matching System

Colour Consistency: The Pantone Matching System

Andrew James

Andrew James

Letterpress Operator at Capital Colour
Andrew James

Latest posts by Andrew James (see all)

In 1963 Lawrence Herbert introduced the first colour matching system. This system was comprised of a wide variety of printed colour swatches with a unique number for each. These swatches were bound together into a single book. The goal was to help designers and printers find a common ground for colour matching regardless of the equipment being used. The printing press operator could match their printed inks to the swatches in the books for pure consistency. pantone-plus_booksToday, brandingdesign and corporate identities rely heavily on having a logo or brand look identical regardless of the designer or printer. The Pantone Matching System (PMS) makes this possible. The swatch collection has grown exponentially since its creation and now boasts over a thousand swatches for colours including fluorescent and metallic colours. Multiple swatch books are available from Pantone to ensure variety and consistency for almost any print project.

The majority of commercial printing is done with the use of 4 colours, cyan (c), magenta (m), yellow (y), and black (k), when combined can produce an enormous spectrum of colours. Printing cyan on top of yellow would create the appearance of green ink. This is known as process colour.

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The use of a Pantone colour is known as applying a spot colour. This means that the final colour is mixed by hand before being added to the printing press inkwell. The pantone matching system provides predetermined published recipes with their swatchbooks so that colour can be created as accurately as possible. Specialized Pantone scales are used for precise accuracy. A green pantone spot colour would be mixed by hand following the pantone formula. The appearance of any ink can be greatly influenced by the paper being used. Pantone colours are achieved best when the purest white paper is being used.

Many different institutions and agencies have applied the use of the Pantone swatches to ensure accurate representation. Canada’s own Federal Identity Program cites Pantone 032 for the correct colour for the national flag while McDonald’s corporate guidelines uses pantone 123 for their golden arches. When important colours like these must be represented as accurately as possible, CMYK process simply cannot produce the desired results.

Today, Pantone has expanded to include colour swatches and matching systems for applications other than print. Fashion design, photography, product design, and interior design have been embraced by Pantone further cementing their leadership in colour authority.

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