CMYK, RGB and PANTONE Colors

CMYK, RGB and PANTONE ColorsCMYK color, RGB color and Pantone color (also called PMS) are abbreviations common in the printing world and often heard in the print design industry. To an untrained ear, they sound unfamiliar but the thing is that in any type of business, there is a kind of language distinct to each one known as jargon. Such is the case in print design where the said color descriptions are often used but gibberish to an ordinary man.


What do the acronyms stand for and why are they important? They have something to do with making sure designs will look the way they should once at the final stage. A range of media is often offered when a logo design, for instance, is requested where sizes and file types are discussed including these color formats.

The Format Called CMYK Color

Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key or the color Black are the four colors applied to the printing process involving CMYK. With these colors, an assortment of hues may be created. Black is called Key being exactly that – key. It is the primary color that defines the final image’s details and contrast in the CMYK printing format.

Designs using the CMYK print folders are generally done on white background which helps avoid color discrepancies. The tone differences will depend on ink density.  The very slight unnoticeable color inconsistency may still occur during the printing process as it the time when CYMK colors are mixed.

The RGB Color Profile

This profile known as “screen format” is an intriguing but exciting process in digital design where no actual canvas is utilized. The projection is done against a screen to blend not ink but lights using the colors in the RGB wheel namely: Red, Green and Blue. These are the same colors used in the screens of mobile devices, cameras, televisions and computer monitors. Note that no two monitors are calibrated exactly alike that there may be slight difference in colors on two different screens but admittedly, in the digital world, RGB is the choice.

The higher the intensity of the three color combination would give lighter tones. Black is produced by reduced light against a darkened screen with the absence of the RGB colors as opposed to CMYK or Pantone where white is often represented by the absence of colors.


A Look at Pantone Color

This is the printing world’s primary color matching system, Pantone or PMS for Pantone Matching System – the “spot color”. Its process of creating colors with pre-mixed ink prior to image creation gives the most accurate results compared to the CMYK or the RGB.

Using this color format may be costlier but with PMS, you could be assured of the following:

  1. Accurate color match.
  2. Eliminates discrepancies between digital design and finished printed product.
  3. Recognized by many industries worldwide when it comes to custom inks creation.
  4. A controlled-ink system, pantone colors make an excellent choice for exact color printing in an assortment of printed media.

As a pre-mixed color format, only a color at a time must be applied to ensure the best result.  For print designs using PMS, a maximum of 3 colors would be ideal to reduce the risks of cracked inks.

The Uses of CMYK, RGB and PMS

  • For full color printing or full color photography, CMYK color has the widest range of colors that provide the most accurate printed result. It makes a perfect choice for any printing design that would use 4 or more colors.
  • RGB colors are best for digital designs or any designs for the web. Otherwise, designs created with this format will have to be converted to either PMS or CMYK prior to printing.
  • Pantone or PMS helps create accurate brand coloring like logos. It is also best for single-color designs because the format produces a rich color tone. The spot printing capability of Pantone colors may also be used to adjust color limitations when using CMYK for metallic, neon, orange, grey or navy blue colors.

The design and print industry wants to make sure that everything will look good across all media hence the use of these three different color standards accordingly. All you need to do is know where you want to use each one so the colors will be consistent and accurate.


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