Updated: Jan 21, 2021
If you're new to the print industry you might find yourself confronted with the quandary of choosing between Pantone or CMYK. When it comes to the world of color, the wheels go round and round, but certain color wheels are dedicated to certain creative design and production methods. Pantone and CMYK refer to color matching systems used to determine the quality, consistency, and outcome of your prints on specific printers. Certain printers produce prints using certain inks and color matching systems. For example a HP365 Wide Format Printer only prints in Pantone while a HPM252DW only prints in CMYK.
Problems with printing can arise when the colors used to generate a design file are not in accordance with the printer specification used to produce the print. In some cases a file may need to be converted using a color matching system to ensure the quality of each color is printed to customer expectations and brand integrity requirements. For example graphic designers may use Pantone swatches in their design program, but the print will need to be produced using a CMYK capable printer. In most cases, colors can be matched or converted before print production using swatch books or online color matching systems to adjust the design files or print previews.
The Pantone Matching System or (PMS) is best used to guarantee the expected results of your print by assigning solid color formula codes to each color. The best way to choose your Pantone color is to use a swatch book which includes printed previews assigned to a PMS color code. By using a swatch book in person, you can confirm how a color will look when it is printed. The Pantone Matching System does not offer every color possible but it does guarantee a large spectrum of over 1400 colors. You can use various online Pantone Matching Systems to find the code you like, but matching colors provided by computer screens may result in your selection being a shade darker or lighter when it is printed. In most cases, online Pantone matching systems can help you communicate the perfect color you would like your graphic designer or printer to use, but it is advised to use a swatch book in person.
CMYK or (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) refers to a color matching system which generates color using a numerical formula of four colors to create a new color. CMYK is used largely for collateral marketing production printers that are used to create marketing materials, like flyers, business cards and brochures. CMYK inks tend to be more affordable than Pantone when it comes to printing hundreds or thousands of items. Prints produced using CMYK colors tend to show minor inconsistencies across printers due to ink density, temperature, material qualities or other various machinery settings. While CMYK offers a larger spectrum of mixed colors and printing possibilities when compared to Pantone, it is more likely to result in dull or inaccurate printing. CMYK colors can be accurately matched using online color matching systems, making it easier to provide your graphic designer or printer with the exact formula of your choice.
When it comes to deciding whether CMYK or Pantone is the right choice for your project, consider a few more tips:
Pantone printers are ideal for printing solid color text and vector images, giving Pantone the upper hand for corporate identities and branded products. Illustrations and vector files created with design software using HI-DPI tend to be best for Pantone printers. CMYK printers tend to be best for print layouts including photographs or raster images, this is because photos are pixel based and full of complex color grids containing combinations of mixed color codes. CMYK is the most affordable option when it comes to printing hundreds or thousands of prints, and is the better choice for photographic images. Pantone and CMYK can be converted, but some colors can not be accurately matched and must be matched to the closest available option.
Whether you're a graphic designer preparing a logo to be printed, a business woman trying to create a sign to match the interior of your office, or the new owner of a printer, it is important to know how to communicate and achieve the results you expect from your prints. Follow the links below to purchase your own color charts or use online color matching systems to get your prints produced at peak performance and best value.