Friday, March 15, 2013

Why are Pantone Colors so Important?

Every year my twitter feed blows up by the end of the year when Pantone announces their color of the year. Last year was tangerine tango, this year emerald got its moment to shine.

Being a graphic designer I use pantone colors all day erry day. Before I became a designer I didn't really know what the deal with Pantone colors was. I didn't know their importance to the design, fashion and print world.

Pantone is short for Pantone Matching System, which is also short for "PMS" (hand to heart the abbreviation is for reals PMS) Every year Pantone releases a swatch book full of colors that are given a number code. PMS color 286 is a medium blue, PMS color 362 is a lime green and PMS color 186 is a tomato red.

These swatch books I speak of? They are a pretty penny. They are approximately $80 to $100 per book. I know what you're thinking "ok, pretty sure my local home depot has a shit ton of swatch books for free. boom"

The difference with these swatch books though is that the colors are printed SO accurately and precisely that if you were to buy a swatch book and compare the colors to your swatch book to your friend's swatch book living in Japan the colors would be exactly the same. Now for anyone who has ever printed images from more than one printer you know that the colors will never be the same from one printer to the next.So it really is amazing that a company like Pantone can print out THOUSANDS of books and have them ALL match.

For example big name companies like Nikon, Coca Cola and Forever21 have PMS colors in their logo design and branding. Every Forever21 across the US will have the same shade of yellow on their clothing hang tags, their 3-D logo cut outs, and their shopping bags. Basically Forever21 tells their print vendor "Hey, I want all of our shopping bags to match PMS color 109". The print vendor then pulls out their PMS book and prints out a ton of test runs of their Yellow color until it matches up with the 109 color in their swatch book. Forever21 will then take their swatch book to make sure the shopping bags sent from the vendor match the 109 in their swatch book, which it should since ALL swatch books no matter where they are from will have the SAME shade of color in every book.

Am i making sense?

So basically, its important for companies (or your logo) to have PMS colors so that when you are getting business cards printed from one vendor and shopping bags printed from another vendor your stuff will be printed at the same color with no surprises. That is why the Pantone Matching System exists. Sure, I can say to a print vendor "Make sure my heart in Yellow Heart Art is yellow", well what kind of yellow? Bright yellow? pale yellow? mustard yellow? dark yellow? brown yellow? Sure, I love my heart to be a mustard yellow but what I think in my mind is a mustard yellow might not be how someone else interprets mustard yellow. Thats why I would provide a PMS color of the exact Yellow I have in mind.

Normally this process is very hard to achieve and a lot of companies will charge more to have your logo printed using PMS colors.

The fashion industry uses PMS colors too. When they are designing a dress using a shade of green they absolutely LOVE there will be no surprises. They simply pick a Pantone color from their swatch book to have their print vendor match it.

And that, my friends, are how PMS colors are born.


PSSST in case you missed it, help us find our pot-o-gold! If you do there could be a $20 credit to Yellow Heart Art in it for ya!


  1. How neat!! Thanks for this awesome (fact filled!) post Leonora!! xoxo

  2. Ah, it all makes sense now! I was always curious why Pantone colors were such a big deal! =)

  3. I saw your tweet about this last night and I smiled because it had been a minute since anyone has talked the deets of Pantone. Being a fashion student - the above lesson was one of our first and impounded in us throughout my 4 years. Color consistency. I think this is when we can deem ourselves "color nerds" ;)

    Have a wonderful weekend, love!

  4. Very interesting! I love colors and this makes total sense! Thanks for sharing!!

  5. You are doing a public service. Virtual high-five!! :)

  6. So much good information! I didn't know any of this before reading this post. Thanks for all the awesome information! You rock

  7. I am an art and design enthusiast but I honestly know very little about how it all works. (I just admire other people's work from afar and stumble around in Photoshop every now and then.) I really enjoyed this post and learning about Pantone colors. Thanks for sharing. : )


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