The RGB color model is an additive color model in which red, green, and blue light is added together in various ways to reproduce a broad array of colors. The name of the model comes from the initials of the three additive primary colors, red, green, and blue.

The main purpose of the RGB color model is for the sensing, representation, and display of images in electronic systems, such as televisions and computers, though it has also been used in conventional photography. Before the electronic age, the RGB color model already had a solid theory behind it, based in human perception of colors.

The CMYK color model (process color, four color) is a subtractive color model, used in color printing, and is also used to describe the printing process itself. CMYK refers to the four inks used in some color printing: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black). Though it varies by print house, press operator, press manufacturer and press run, ink is typically applied in the order of the abbreviation. The “K” in CMYK stands for key since in four-color printing cyan, magenta, and yellow printing plates are carefully keyed or aligned with the key of the black key plate.

The CMYK model works by partially or entirely masking colors on a lighter, usually white, background. The ink reduces the light that would otherwise be reflected. Such a model is called subtractive because inks “subtract” brightness from white.

The Pantone Color Matching System is largely a standardized color reproduction system. By standardizing the colors, different manufacturers in different locations can all refer to the Pantone system to make sure colors match without direct contact with one another.

One such use is standardizing colors in the CMYK process. There is a special subset of Pantone colors that can be reproduced using CMYK . However, most of the Pantone system’s 1,114 spot colors cannot be simulated with CMYK but with 13 base pigments (15 including white and black) mixed in specified amounts. The Pantone system also allows for many special colors to be produced, such as metallics and fluorescents.

Pantone colors are described by their allocated number (typically referred to as, for example, “PMS 130”). PMS colors are almost always used in branding and have even found their way into government legislation (to describe the colors of flags).