In our last blog, we took a brief overview of the differences between designing for print and web; during this overview, we had a look at how colours vary between the two mediums, and how it can be difficult to assess how a page displayed on a screen will differ from it’s printed counterpart. This is because each screen will display colours differently, and because screens used red, green and blue (RGB) as display values instead of cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK) that printers use; here’s a detailed explanation of CMYK vs RGB.  In order to remedy this particular discrepancy, as well as the differences in colour CMYK might produce, Pantone® created the Pantone Color System® (PMS).


To illustrate how the PMS works, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of CMYK printing. With CMYK, you start with a white page, and colours are layered overtop using small dots of each colour in order to reproduce the image; four different printing plates are used for this process. This is sometimes referred to as standard process or four-colour printing; with CMYK, you can make a wide variety of colours, but you can’t replicate all colours.


PMS works quite differently; it’s a colour system, more akin to how you would use paint swatches than anything else.  The ink the printer uses is pre-mixed, and set at a particular value; there are thousands of different colours in the system, so when you choose a particular PMS colour, it will look the same on every page. This is particularly useful when you need a printed document to look the same, every time; effective business cards with prominently featured logos or pages with just one or two colours benefit from this system.


There are advantages and disadvantages to each system. With PMS, the main advantage comes from consistency, as well as the ability to create colours outside of the CMYK range; a good navy blue is almost impossible to create using CMYK, while for PMS it’s just another premixed ink. When you have documents with a large and varied number of colours, however, CMYK will probably be best; PMS colours are more expensive to use, because you have to change the ink every time a new colour is needed, while CMYK only uses the same four inks.


PMS is also useful for transferring a design from digital to print; as we’ve seen, digital values use RGB and not CMYK, so it can be a bit tricky to figure the CMYK values out, while PMS has the appropriate colour value built in. There’s rumour floating that CSS will begin using the CMYK standard, which would save a lot of time and energy. In the interim, to properly translate your values, speak with your local printing pros; they’ll be able to show you how your document will look once printed, and give you an idea of what colour system to use when creating documents.