Updated: Mar 12
Out of millions of color mixtures, how do you make sure your brand colors print correctly?
Any designer worth their salt, can talk with fervor about the grand power of Pantone and how important it is to your brand. You’ll nod your head in agreement while asking yourself, “What is this crazy person talking about?”
Inks. We’re talking about inks.
Sounds boring right? Who in the world gets that excited about ink? Designers do! Almost as excited as we get about paper. Don’t you just love the snap of a nice, thick piece of paper under your thumb? We’re an exciting bunch, aren’t we.
This article will give you a general knowledge of Pantone: what it is, how to narrow down your color selection, and how these colors can impact your brand.
What Is Pantone?
First off, what is Pantone? Pantone is the industry standard for inks and color mixtures that are designed to print and display with accuracy every time they are produced. A printer in Norfolk, Nebraska can print something with Pantone inks that will turn out exactly the same if that file were printed with a company in Albany, New York or Rome, Italy.
Not all printers are calibrated the same. Your home printer probably prints images differently than your printer at work. For snapshots, recipes, and a monthly memo it’s not a huge deal. But, with professional printers it’s imperative that the colors turn out correctly. That’s why they use Pantone.
Designers use Pantone because there are codes, mixture ratios, and visual comparisons that we need to make to ensure that your colors display correctly each time your logo is used.
Choosing Your Pantone Swatches
As you go through the creative process with your designer, colors will, without a doubt, be one of the first questions you’re asked about. What colors would you like to implement into your logo and brand? Why did you choose those colors? Here’s a sample conversation that I have had many times:
Client: I want something that’s bright. And I like green.
JJAD: Could you be more specific on the type of green. Do you have a favorite?
Client: I don’t know, you decide. I like the green that John Deere uses.
It’s okay to be vague. Sometimes, I prefer a client to have a general idea as opposed to a solidified palette. This allows me to develop a few options. Who knows, you could potentially fall in love with a whole different scheme than what you had originally imagined.
Since the client mentioned they like John Deere Green, let’s move forward with that as our example. John Deere has an excellent brand system. You’ll never see a John Deere farming implement that isn’t green. Not just “green”, but an extremely specific green. So specific that it’s actually trademarked.
A quick search on Google can tell you that John Deere Green is actually Pantone Matching System number 364 in the coated swatch book. It will be displayed as PMS 364 C. That’s a whole lot of technical jargon, so let’s unpack it into something more easy to digest.
Designers will use a swatch book, much like the paint swatches you select at the hardware store. This swatch book is filled with color samples and the numbers that identify them. These numbers tell the printer which ink to mix for the correct printing result. In terms of digital use, the ink number corresponds to the appropriate RGB mixture on your computer screen.
RGB stands for red, green, blue and this is the spectrum that all digital screens use.
Here's an example of what a Pantone swatch can look like, depending on the book you have in front of you. The books I use are Pantone Color Bridge Coated and Uncoated, Plus Series.
There are two formulas of ink that you can choose from. One is for uncoated papers (such as your standard printer paper at home) and one is for coated papers (like the glossy stuff used in magazines). Inks can look different when applied to different surfaces, so Pantone has created different formulas so that colors look the same across all print projects. So each ink number is accompanied by a “C” for coated and a “U” for uncoated.
There are also mixtures for use on printers that utilize a four-color process called CMYK. This stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black). This is what most professional printers use unless you specifically ask for a certain Pantone color. But they will tweak and recalibrate their machines to “color match” your specific swatch number (usually at an added cost).
Since I know that John Deere Green is a trademarked color, to avoid legal issues I’ll give my client some choices that are similar. Though the likelihood of John Deere taking legal recourse on someone using their color outside of the agriculture industry is small, it’s best to avoid these issues when you can.
Here is a visual sample of the color swatches I could potentially show my customer.
It might be hard to see the difference in each of these swatches, but if you look closely, some have more yellow, some have a lighter appearance, and some have a deeper tone.
But all are within a stones throw of the originally requested color. Someone who isn’t well versed in color theory might get overwhelmed with the 10 options I’ve shown above. So I’ll combine these greens with a variety of other supporting hues and narrow down which could be the best options for my client before I present them.
How do Pantone colors impact your brand?
One of the best things you can have in your branding guide is a list of your colors and the mixtures that can help make sure it looks right every time.
Look at the green options above again. If the color my client selected is PMS 2278 C, it must always look like PMS 2278 C. If it’s lighter, darker, or has more blue than yellow, then it’s not the right color!
Your brand colors have been selected to work together in a certain way. If the mixture of those colors are off then it throws off the harmony of your color scheme. If you’re listening to a choir of people and one person is out of tune, you can hear them. The same idea can be said for your brand colors. If one color is off, the whole thing looks out of whack.
Your brand colors have been selected to work together in a certain way. If the mixture of those colors are off then it throws off the harmony of your color scheme
It can be intimidating to try and absorb all of the technical terms and processes that go into choosing colors and making sure they print or display correctly. That’s why your best option is always to work with a professional designer or a customer service representative at your local print shop. They’ll make sure that your brand standards are being followed and that your colors are correctly printed.
So, did I make you excited about ink?
Yes? Great, let’s chat!
No? Darn. Want to talk about paper? I love talking about paper!
If you have any questions or thoughts about the colors for your own brand, click on Contact in the menu and send me an email through the form. I’d be happy to give you some pointers and work together on making sure you have exact colors and inks that you’ll need for your brand arsenal.