The Pantone Matching System was created by Lawrence Herbet in 1963 in order to solve the problems associated with producing accurate and consistent colors by creating standardized colors of ink through detailed measurements and ink mixing. One of the biggest advantages in using specific Pantone colors in your digital files is the color reproduction will be identical every time you print. This is how a company such as coca cola can produce the exact red (PMS 75-1) in their logo for example, no matter which printing company they use.

The Pantone Matching System (PMS) system uses pre-determined, published color formulas to create a large number of ink colors. Similar to the paint swatch guides you find at your favorite paint store, the pantone color chart contains thousands of color swatches created from a palette of basic colors. Creating a Pantone spot color is similar to mixing paint such as blue and yellow to get green, but with much more precision. Each color has a ‘PMS’ number assigned to it. These numbers are used to identify the exact color needed. The specified ink is then prepared using the correct mixture of base colors, either purchased pre-mixed from an ink company or mixed on-site at the printing company. Using PMS inks is called spot color printing.

Pros and cons of printing with Pantone
Color is very subjective, which is why the Pantone Matching System works so well. It takes all the guesswork out of color identification. Every computer monitor is different, every printer is different. By standardizing the colors, manufacturers and customers in different locations can all refer to the Pantone system to make sure colors match. It is used by many printers and graphic artists to deliver reliable, reproducible colors to their customers. The ink manufacturers who create the base color inks are strictly licensed by Pantone for color accuracy.
Even though Pantone is a great option in certain cases, it doesn’t always make sense to incorporate it into your printing project. Using spot colors can be more expensive than process inks (CMYK) due to the extra production costs involved in “washing up” and changing out the ink in the press, particularly when using more than one or two PMS colors depending on the printer’s manufacturing equipment and processes. Since CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) process printing uses the same base colors all the time, it’s a more cost-effective solution.

When to print with Pantone
There are certain times in commercial printing when your colors have to be exact. That’s when you should consider using PMS colors, either on their own or added to standard four-color process printing. Here are a few examples:

  1. Consistent Branding/Logos – Think McDonald’s red or UPS brown. Using PMS colors for your logo and stationery will allow you to ensure color accuracy and establish a standard that anyone working with your artwork will be able to match.
  2. Colors outside the range of CMYK – There are some colors that just can’t be produced with CMYK, including colors such as navy blue or bright orange.
  3. Color consistency from page to page – If you are printing a booklet or catalog where you need a solid block of color to be consistent from page to page, it might be worth using Pantone. When printing a solid color with process inks, slight variations in the color balance can affect the consistency of the color.
  4. Smooth coverage of large areas – A PMS color works well when the consistency and saturation of large areas of a solid ink color is important.

As you can see, there are a variety of things to consider when deciding whether you should use PMS colors or stick with four color process printing. It’s important to look at each project individually and weigh all the factors to come to an informed decision.