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What is a Pantone Color?

Two hands holding a Pantone Color Guide

Pantone Definition…

Pantone is an American company headquartered in Carlstadt, New Jersey. In 1963, Pantone developed a proprietary system for categorizing colors. This system is known as the Pantone Matching System.

So when you see or hear the term Pantone Color, it is a reference to one of the more than 2,000 colors within the Pantone Matching System.

The Pantone company created its name by combining the word "Pan" (meaning All) with the word "Tone" (meaning Color). It turned out to be a visionary name choice because the Pantone Matching System has become the worldwide standard for selecting, communicating, and matching colors.

A confused woman holding a cell phone

Why is the Pantone Matching System important?

Have you ever tried to accurately describe a color using words alone? Whether you use written or verbal communication, it is virtually impossible to accurately describe a specific hue or tint. Even if the color has a descriptive name, like Forest Green or Mustard Yellow, different people can have varying interpretations of what these colors actually look like or how to duplicate them.

The Pantone Matching System has eliminated this ambiguity by organizing a multitude of colors in a logical sequence, assigning unique identification numbers for each one, and displaying the formulas needed for replication.

Pantone publishes this information in easy-to-use guidebooks, which are available worldwide. These guides are designed as a bound deck of color swatch cards. The swatch cards fan out for quick referencing. Pantone offers several versions, including ones that show how the various colors will appear on coated or uncoated paper stocks.

By referring to these Pantone color guides, a customer in one city can select a color from the Pantone book and easily communicate the exact color to a printing company in another city. Likewise, an advertising agency in one country can easily communicate an exact color to a graphic designer in another country.

The Pantone system solves the complicated problem of sharing accurate color information among multiple stakeholders in different locations.

Pantone Colors and the Printing Industry

The Pantone Matching System is an invaluable resource for the printing industry, helping graphic designers, printers, and customers select, communicate, and match colors. Because the Pantone color system ensures that everyone is on the same page, it helps streamline both the design and printing processes.

Unlike CMYK ink colors that intermingle on the paper to form new colors, Pantone ink colors are created from precise formulas. These formulas specify the exact mix of pigments needed to achieve a specific color and are carefully calibrated to ensure consistency across different materials and printing processes.

The Pantone system not only ensures that colors are reproduced accurately across different types of media, it also helps to maintain color consistency for corporate branding and marketing purposes.

Cans of Premixed Pantone Inks sitting on a shelf
Cans of pre-mixed Pantone ink colors

Pantone Colors vs CMYK Process Colors

The CMYK printing process can create around 16,000 colors, but there are some colors the CMYK process cannot produce. This is where Pantone colors come to the rescue by supplementing the color palette available for printing projects.

Unlike CMYK process printing, which simulates colors by overlapping dots of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink colors on the paper, Pantone colors are pure colors. They are pre-mixed prior to being placed into the printing press and are applied as solid colors on the paper.

A printing company will often mix the pigments in-house unless a project requires a large volume of ink. In that case, it is generally more efficient to order the Pantone ink pre-mixed.

Some print projects print exclusively with one or more Pantone ink colors. Pantone ink colors can also be used in addition to the four CMYK ink colors, especially if a project requires a specific standalone color in addition to full-color printing.

A Swatch of Pantone Color Peach Fuzz
The "Pantone Color of the Year" for 2024

What is The Pantone Color of the Year?

In addition to colors used for printing and graphic design, Pantone offers colors for use by other industries. These industries include fashion, home furnishings, and interior design.

Pantone services these industries with a separate color system called Fashion, Home + Interior (FHI). The FHI color system is designed for use with textiles as well as non-fabric materials such as paint, cosmetics, and furniture.

Since the year 2000, Pantone has been announcing its "Color of the Year." Publicized every December, Pantone's annual choice helps set the trend for the creative use of color in the upcoming year. On a few rare occasions, Pantone has proclaimed two colors for one calendar year.

Geared primarily toward the fashion and home décor industries, Pantone's Color of the year has tremendous influence over the color of products offered during a given year.

By the way, the Color of the Year for 2024 is Peach Fuzz (Pantone # 13-1023).

Other names for Pantone Colors

In the printing industry, Pantone colors are often referred to by a couple different names.

Because the Pantone Matching System is commonly abbreviated as PMS, the colors included in the Pantone Matching System are often referred to as PMS colors.

Also, Pantone colors are sometimes called "Spot" colors. This is to help differentiate the standalone Pantone colors from the CMYK process colors.

Unlike the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink colors used for CMYK printing, Pantone inks almost never intermingle with other ink colors on the paper. This is because Pantone inks are intended to be used as solid colors. As such, they are designated for certain "Spots" within the design.

Need help with a Pantone printing project?

If you are looking to have a project printed with Pantone colors, be sure to get in touch with Color Vision. Whether your printed piece will use Pantone colors exclusively, or will require Pantone colors in combination with CMYK process printing, we have the equipment and expertise to make your project a success.

Just give us a call at 800-543-6299 to discuss your needs. Or, if you would prefer to get a quote by email, you can send us a Quote Request by clicking here. We hope to hear from you soon and look forward to assisting with your custom printing needs!

Related Article: What is a Spot Color?

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