The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is a standardized and widely used system for color identification and communication in graphic design, fashion, printing and other industries. It was created by Pantone Inc.
The purpose of PMS is to enable designers, manufacturers and clients to communicate accurately about colors without relying on subjective visual perception, which can vary from person to person or in different lighting conditions.
Key aspects of the Pantone System
These are some of the distinctive features of the Pantone system that have made it a widely used tool in graphic design and printing:
- Color Guides – Pantone produces physical guides (often called color charts) that show thousands of specific colors along with their PMS number or name. These colors are printed on various types of paper (coated, uncoated, matte, etc.) to show how they will appear on different media.
- Color formulas: Each color in the Pantone system has a specific formula that indicates how it can be reproduced using spot colors. This means that printers can mix inks according to Pantone specifications to achieve a specific PMS color.
- Use in different industries: Although the Pantone system is widely known in the world of printing and graphic design, it is also used in other industries, such as fashion and interior design, to specify and produce colors of fabrics, paints and other materials.
- Digital conversion: Since we live in a digital age, there are also digital versions of the Pantone system that allow designers to select and specify PMS colors in design software such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop.
- Evolution and expansion: Over the years, the Pantone brand has expanded its system to include not only solid colors, but also transparencies, metallics, neon, among others.
Where is PMS used?
Beyond graphic design, the Pantone system is used in a wide number of industries as a tool for maintaining color accuracy and consistency. Let’s find out in which industries PMS is most commonly encountered:
- Graphic design: PMS is an essential tool for graphic designers working in branding, advertising, editorial design, packaging, etc. It allows designers to specify exact colors for logos, corporate identities and other graphic elements.
- Printing: Printers use the Pantone system to mix inks to the exact specification of a Pantone color. This is essential to ensure color consistency in printed materials such as brochures, business cards, magazines and more.
- Fashion and textiles: The Pantone system is used to specify colors in fashion design, fabrics and other textile materials. Pantone even releases trend colors annually, which often influence color palettes in the fashion industry.
- Interior Design: Interior designers use the Pantone system to select and specify colors for paints, upholstery, furniture and other decorative elements.
- Plastics: Plastics manufacturers use Pantone formulas to create color-consistent plastics for various products and applications.
- Consumer products: From toys to appliances, PMS is used to ensure consistent colors in consumer products.
- Cosmetics and beauty: The cosmetics industry turns to Pantone colors to develop and describe shades of makeup and other cosmetic products.
- Food: Although it may seem unusual, the food industry sometimes uses the Pantone system to describe and standardize colors for food products and packaging.
Limitations of the Pantone Matching System
Like any tool, the Pantone system also has some limitations that we should be aware of if we are thinking of using it in any of our print design work:
- Cost: Pantone products, such as color guides, can be expensive, and may need to be replaced periodically, as printed colors may fade or change over time.
- Reproduction on digital devices: Pantone colors may not look the same on different monitors or devices due to variations in calibration and device technology. Although there are profiles and color management systems that attempt to balance these differences, exact accuracy can be difficult to achieve.
- Conversion to CMYK: Not all PMS colors have a direct equivalence in the CMYK color space (used in standard color printing). Therefore, when a design specified in Pantone colors is printed in CMYK, there can be noticeable differences in color.
- Production variability: Although the Pantone system provides specific formulas for mixing inks to obtain accurate colors, factors such as paper type and color, press conditions, and ink quality can influence the final color appearance.
- Limitations in digital media: Pantone colors are primarily intended for print and may not be as relevant for projects that will only be displayed in digital media, such as websites or mobile applications, where RGB colors are more standard.
- Updates and changes: Pantone occasionally adds or changes colors in its system. This means that companies and designers must update their guides and tools to keep up with the latest versions.
- Material availability: In industries such as textiles and plastics, it can be difficult to obtain an accurate Pantone color due to the inherent limitations of materials and production processes.