Pantone color charts, also known as “Pantone guides” or “Pantone swatches”, are not an official standard but are a de facto reference in the printing industry regarding color communication.
There are several types of guides with different purposes. Let’s take a look at the ones that are most commonly used in commercial printing, and then explain how to use them.
What is Pantone?
Pantone is a company known for its color matching system, which is widely used in various industries to ensure consistent and accurate color communication. The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is a standardized color reproduction system that assigns unique identification numbers to specific colors.
This system allows designers, manufacturers, and printers to accurately communicate and reproduce colors across different materials, such as print, textiles, plastics, and digital media.
Pantone’s color charts, such as the Pantone Solid Coated and Uncoated guides, provide a comprehensive collection of colors, each identified by a specific Pantone number. These guides are widely used by designers and manufacturers to select and specify colors for their projects, ensuring consistency and uniformity.
Pantone color charts
Pantone color charts are widely recognized and used in various industries, including graphic design, printing, fashion, and product development. These charts consist of a wide range of standardized colors, each assigned a unique Pantone number, allowing for consistent color communication and reproduction across different mediums.
The Pantone color system provides designers and manufacturers with a reliable reference for selecting and matching colors, ensuring accuracy and consistency in their work.
Explore the diverse Pantone color charts to find the perfect hue for your creative projects or to maintain brand consistency across various platforms.
Pantone Formula Guide Color Charts
The PMS series is undoubtedly the most popular set of Pantone charts. The purpose of this series of guides is to facilitate the selection of spot colors in designs, as well as to find their equivalent in process colors. One of the most commonly used in this series is the Formula Guide chart.
The latest version available for purchase is presented in two separate guides (Coated and Uncoated). The difference between Pantone Coated and Uncoated is that the former shows colors printed on coated paper, and the latter on uncoated paper.
It is used to uniquely identify and communicate a large number of colors among the different actors in the graphic process: clients, graphic designers, and printers. In its latest version, it includes 1,755 colors.
In addition to identifying all those tones, this Pantone chart indicates how to obtain them by combining different proportions of a limited number of basic inks, which is especially useful for commercial printers who will mix these basic inks in the specified proportions to obtain the desired color. It’s like a recipe book with the “formula” for obtaining Pantone colors.
Pantone Color Bridge Charts (PMS and Process Color Series)
Pantone Inc includes them in the PMS and PROCESS COLOR series.
The Pantone Color Bridge guide shows the equivalents between spot colors and four-color process (CMYK) inks. For each spot color, two “patches” are presented, one for the spot color and another for the equivalent in four-color process, also indicating the percentages of each CMYK color.
Pantone Color Bridge is very useful for designers, as it allows them to see how their designs, initially designed with spot colors (for example, corporate colors), will be reproduced in CMYK. It is also very useful because the CMYK equivalent does not always resemble the spot color, so it is up to the color specialist to decide whether or not to transform a certain spot color into four-color process colors (which usually results in cost savings).
This Pantone color guide is also presented in two versions, one for printing on coated paper and another for uncoated paper. With screen display and web design in mind, the latest version includes Pantone codes along with color values in sRGB and HTML.
(The comparison between pantone colors and hexadecimal values used in web design is an increasingly frequent need among graphic designers, that is why on the internet can be found pantone color tables that allow us, albeit approximately, to know the pantone of a hexadecimal color and vice versa).
EXTENDED GAMUT Coated Guide Pantone Color Guides (PMS and Process Color Series)
This Pantone guide is also part of the Process Color series, but the 1,729 colors it includes can all be found in the PMS.
It is a new Pantone book designed specifically for the needs of the packaging and label industry, and it aims to address some of the limitations of the Pantone Color Bridge guide that we mentioned earlier, where the equivalence between spot ink and CMYK was rarely exact.
To achieve this, not 4 but 7 inks have been used: in addition to the usual Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK (CMYK), Orange, Green, and Violet (OGV) have been added. By using these 7 inks, results very similar to those of spot colors can be achieved. More info
Starter Guide Color Guides (Matching System Series)
This is the perfect guide for starting out in the Pantone world, as it brings together in one book a selection of colors that are spread across various guides (specifically 543). Solid colors from the Pantone Formula Guide can be found alongside metallics, pastels, and neons, which as we will see below, are offered in greater depth in independent guides. It is a summary of all of them, for a more affordable price (well, relatively affordable 😉 ).
CMYK Color Guide Coated & Uncoated Color Charts (Process Color Series)
The focus of the Process Color series is on the four-color process colors. It includes the Pantone Color Bridge and Extended Gamut guides we just saw, as well as the following:
https://www.pantone.com/cmyk-coated-uncoated This guide shows the shades of 2,868 colors and their percentages of four-color process colors (note that this chart does not include spot colors, only CMYK), with the particularity that they are arranged chromatically to facilitate color selection.
Again, it comes in the form of two separate sets, one for printing on coated paper and one for uncoated paper. These colors are presented in addition to the 1,755 spot colors in the PMS guides.
Pantone Metallics & Premium Metallics Color Charts (Metallics, Pastels & Neons Series)
Metallics includes the identification and formulation of 301 metallic colors from 7 basic colors, with the particularity that samples of how these 7 basic colors look like after applying a glossy varnish are included. Premium Metallics adds 300 more colors to the list.
PASTELS & NEONS Coated & Uncoated Pantone Color Charts (METALLICS, PASTELS & NEONS Series)
Swatchbook specialized in pastel and fluorescent color ranges. It includes 154 pastel colors and 56 “neon” colors, which are shown on coated and uncoated support. Keep in mind that in the case of pastel and fluorescent ranges, it is especially important to have a reliable reference when choosing the color, since these colors are not faithfully reproduced on monitors due to their nature, and also when converting them to four-color printing, the result is far from the original color.
How to Read Pantone Color Charts
If you are a designer of printed products or your work is related to printed color, one of the basic skills you must possess is being able to read a Pantone color chart.
And why Pantone? Because, although it is not an official color standard, in practice it is the reference of colors used worldwide by printers and graphic designers.
Keep reading and Pantone color charts will no longer be a secret to you 😉
The different Pantone color charts are tools that are used to solve different problems and in different situations: that is why not all Pantone colors are in a single color chart (well, and also because of commercial reasons, I suppose).
With color charts, you can answer questions such as:
- I have the Pantone color of a logo, but now I need to reproduce it in four-color process: What CMYK values do I apply? [answer: Pantone 4-color process]
- I have printed a logo using a Pantone color, how do I correctly include it on a web page? (assuming I don’t have the corporate manual, of course). [answer: Pantone color bridge]
- How do I reproduce a Pantone ink using a limited set of basic inks?
- What difference can be observed when printing the same color on glossy or matte paper?
Let’s review the most commonly used Pantone guides in printing: Formula Guide, CMYK (formerly Process), and Color Bridge.
How to Read Pantone Color Charts
How to Read Pantone Color Bridge Charts
This useful Pantone chart shows the difference between printing with direct inks or four-color process. Four-color process inks usually do not achieve the brilliance of tones obtained when using direct inks, but the difference is more noticeable in some tones than in others.
A common scenario is when a client, for economic reasons, wants to reproduce an element that was previously printed with direct inks in CMYK: Before taking the step, it will be necessary to consult the Pantone color chart since sometimes the difference is quite noticeable.
This Pantone color chart also offers the equivalence in sRGB and hexadecimal of Pantone colors, for reproduction in digital formats.
Recently, Pantone has introduced an Extended Gamut color chart that offers significant improvements over Color Bridge, by presenting the equivalence in Heptachromy (CMYK+Orange+Green+Violet).
How to read Pantone CMYK color charts
This guide shows more than 3,000 colors printed in four colors process (CMYK), indicating for each color the percentages of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black used. This guide is useful when we have an element printed with direct inks and we want to find a close equivalent in CMYK. That is, it is used to compare with printed samples (unlike Color Bridge, it does not show equivalences between Pantone ink names and CMYK combinations).
How to read Pantone Formula Guide color charts
The Pantone Formula Guide color chart presents the composition of more than 1,000 colors from 14 basic colors, indicating the proportions of these colors in percentages and in “pts” (parts). In addition, when it comes to a color that can be reliably reproduced using CMYK inks, this circumstance is indicated with the symbol “::”.
And as we have explained before, there are also various “Guide” type color charts specialized in specific sets of colors such as pastel, neon, and metallic colors.
Pantone Studio App: An alternative to color charts
If you are a designer or work in the world of color, surely the last thing you would want is for the client to be unhappy when seeing the printed work, such as a magazine or a catalog, with colors different from those that appeared on the screen. For this reason, it is very important to take into account how we use color in printed works such as magazines, catalogs, posters, etc.
On the other hand, if you don’t match the profile I mentioned but you are passionate about colors or simply need inspiration for your personal projects, this Pantone app will be very helpful.
Recently, Pantone launched the Pantone Studio app, a free inspiration tool for working with color. Most Pantone Studio users are likely designers, pre-press operators, or other professional profiles that work with color, although anyone can use this real online Pantone color guide to discover and combine colors.
Each color has a card that includes data such as color values (sRGB, Hex, CMYK) and references (color schemes, inspiration).
Extract colors to create a custom palette
Pantone Studio extracts and creates a color palette from thousands of images found on your Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, or the app itself in the inspiration section.
In this case, I’ve connected my design account with Pinterest. As you can see, each photo yields a palette of up to 5 colors. You also have the option to mix colors simply by pointing to a spot and sliding your finger across the screen to capture a different color.
Once you’ve found the perfect color palette, you have several options:
- Synchronize the palette with Creative Cloud or Photoshop.
- Share the palette through messaging or online platforms.
- Save and share the palette in .ase format in several Adobe programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.
- Save the palette directly in Pantone Studio.
Thanks to this app, I no longer need to extract certain colors from images in Photoshop from my laptop. I can do it when and where I prefer.
Build your own color palette
You can build your color palette at any time, whether you are extracting colors from an image or simply viewing the default colors in the free version of the app.
To add a color to a new palette, simply click the share button and select the “add to new palette” option.
Your new palette can now be personalized by adding your details such as name, location, tags, and related images. In the “studio” section, you can apply the colors to various realistic graphics and materials.
Visualize the colors applied to different designs
Here comes the best part of this app. Unfortunately, those of you who haven’t downloaded this app won’t be able to experience 100% how incredible this feature is. Well, from the main menu, click on “studio”. This is where you can “play” with the colors that are available in the displayed palette.
In this section, you can apply your palettes to different designs such as interiors, graphics, and typography. Personally, I have loved visualizing my colors applied to 3D materials, especially in metallic, nylon, glossy, and stucco finishes. The truth is that they look quite realistic.
Create collections of color cards
Pantone color guides are perfect for working with any visual job in both the graphic and textile sectors. To add a color guide to your collection, simply click on the heart-shaped icon. Learn about the possible uses of each guide by clicking on the info icon.
Unfortunately, to see the complete collection of color cards, you will have to opt for a paid subscription unless you are already an Adobe customer.
Having gone through the entire app, you will notice that you can easily create palettes and add colors to them from any section as clicking on a color will bring up a small blank informative box with the color values and a share button. So… no more excuses for a lack of colors when it’s time to work!
Finally, the app is an excellent tool and completely free, but if color is part of your work or visual project, don’t hesitate to download it from only € 7.99 per month with 1 week or month of free trial (depending on the type of subscription: monthly / yearly). By downloading the Studio app, you will not only receive image inspiration, but you will also see a new world discovering and combining colors to carry out your projects.
In addition, you will unlock interesting content that can probably give you a final push when deciding on a color.
I already know what I’m going to do when I get serious about design… and you?
How are Pantone Guides printed?
Being one of the most essential and at the same time most used tools in the graphic design industry, I think we have all wondered at some point (and surely we have tried to imagine) how are printed these blocks of paper strips with color samples that we use every day.
The solution comes from the video I present today, where we can check and understand the way Pantone prints and manipulates its famous color guides. It is truly a mixture of logical elements, such as each sample being printed with its own “Pantone”, or that it is done in long strips to be manipulated and raised later (on quite large lifting machines, by the way), and ingenious elements such as the fact of “putting” many Pantones in the inkwell at once to take advantage of the sheet-fed printing on a somewhat special KBA machine, and that these are already perforated (or at least that is what I interpret).
By the way, the application shown on the iPad is myPANTONE, originally designed for the iPhone.
Seen on veerle.duoh.com/design
What is the Pantone Matching System (PMS)?
The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is a standardized color matching system that assigns unique identification numbers to specific colors. It ensures consistent and accurate color reproduction across different materials and industries.
How is Pantone used in design and printing?
Designers and printers use Pantone colors to specify and communicate color choices accurately. By referencing Pantone numbers, they can ensure consistent color reproduction across different printing processes and materials.
What are Pantone color guides?
Pantone color guides are physical books or digital resources that display a comprehensive collection of colors along with their corresponding Pantone numbers. They serve as reference tools for selecting and matching colors in various design and manufacturing processes.
Can Pantone colors be replicated in digital media?
While Pantone colors are primarily designed for physical materials like print and textiles, there are digital equivalents available. Pantone offers digital color libraries and software tools that enable designers to use Pantone colors in their digital design projects.
What is the Pantone Color of the Year?
The Pantone Color of the Year is an annual announcement by Pantone that highlights a specific color expected to have a significant influence on design, fashion, and various industries throughout the year. This selection often reflects current trends and cultural influences.
Are Pantone colors used in other industries besides design and printing?
Yes, Pantone colors are used in a wide range of industries beyond design and printing. Industries such as fashion, cosmetics, home décor, plastics, and product manufacturing rely on Pantone colors for consistent and accurate color representation.
How do I find the Pantone number for a specific color?
To find the Pantone number for a specific color, you can use Pantone color guides, software, or online resources. These tools allow you to visually match the desired color and identify its corresponding Pantone number.
Can I customize or create my own Pantone colors?
Pantone provides services for custom color creation, such as Pantone Custom Color Standards. These services allow businesses and brands to develop their unique Pantone colors to maintain brand consistency.
Are Pantone colors universally recognized?
Pantone colors are widely recognized and used globally. The standardized Pantone Matching System ensures consistent color communication and reproduction, making Pantone colors a common reference point for designers, manufacturers, and printers worldwide.
How often are Pantone color guides updated?
Pantone color guides are periodically updated to reflect changes in color trends and technology. It’s recommended to check for new editions or updates to ensure access to the most current and accurate color information.