You may have heard the terms RGB, CMYK and/or PMS in relation to color, but you may not know what each acronym stands for or why they matter. Consider this your introduction to the exciting world of RGB, CMYK and PMS (Pantone Matching System). If you want your artwork to look the way it was intended to, it is imperative that you understand each of these color profiles, the difference between them and when to use them.

The first step is understanding the three color modes that are used universally on a daily basis:

RGB — Red, Green, Blue. RGB
RGB color mode is used exclusively in digital design. RGB is associated with screens, such as monitors, televisions, digital cameras and mobile devices. All of these screens produce images by using different color combinations of red, green and blue. Rather than ink, colors in the RGB color wheel are created by blending light itself.

Any image that is optimized for a computer screen uses RGB color mode. For example, website graphics should always be RGB. Any design created with an RGB profile must be converted to CMYK or PMS colors before printing.

CMYK Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key (Black). CMYK
CMYK is sometimes referred to as four-color process printing because it utilizes four colors and mixes them. For instance, if you mix yellow and blue, it makes green. CMYK color mode is used on most printed materials like magazines, posters and brochures. CMYK is what a majority of home printers and commercial printers use. CMYK colors are mixed during the printing process itself. Layers of CMYK ink are laid in varying densities to create tonal differences. CMYK can create a wide range of colors, so it is primarily used for full color printing.

PMS — Pantone Matching System.
PMS is a universal color matching system used primarily in printing. Pantone colors, also known as spot colors, are used by professional print shops around the world; this is because Pantone colors are extremely precise so you know exactly what color you are going to get. They eliminate complications and miscommunications when a piece is printed. We use PMS Colors because names are subjective; for example, the description “light green” will mean different things to different people. PMS

Unlike RGB and CMYK, PMS colors are created with pre-mixed ink long before the image is actually produced, resulting in the most consistent color possible. Every Pantone color can be found in a Pantone swatch book, and each color has a corresponding number to it (i.e., PMS 361).

Branding requires consistency and is one of the key reasons to use the Pantone color mode.