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The ABC’s of Print Color: CMYK v PMS Match Inks

Choosing the right color system for printed materials makes all the difference in appearance. Because computers use HTML colors or style sheets, they cannot be used to accurately match colors for printing. Instead, either CMYK or Pantone colors are optimum for bright, accurate colors on printed documents.

CMYK Colors

Using this system, different colors are created by layering cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks. Also known as process colors, CMYK colors are used in a wide variety of print materials, including magazines and newspapers. The CMYK color model has two primary applications:

CMYK uses a series of dots in the four colors to create images and colors. That method means that a wide variety of colors can be used in a relatively small area. Meanwhile, the main limitation of CMYK colors comes from their inconsistency. The same color may turn out differently, even when the same color appears on multiple pages or even in separate areas on the same page.

Pantone Colors

Often called PMS Match inks or spot colors, Pantone colors use a system similar to that of house paints, where each color corresponds to a number and a swatch sample. Created by mixing 13 base pigments in specified amounts, the PMS model ensures the consistency that is so often lacking with CMYK. Since the color will always turn out the way it looks on the swatch, Pantone colors can be used to match colors, even when it’s impossible to compare samples visually. While PMS inks are not the best choice for full-color photographs, they have several uses:

Because PMS match inks are so precise, governments around the world have even adopted the Pantone color model to specify flag colors. That quality makes Pantone colors the obvious choice for printing branded materials like letterhead, business forms, and many other promotional materials.

Using CMYK and PMS Colors on the Same Document

Because it is easy to put a logo on such a wide variety of products, it is easy to tailor promotional products to a specific audience. Because these specialty items can be more expensive, careful consideration of the hobbies and interests of the target audience is criticalSince both CMYK and PMS color models have specific applications, using one system all the time will not always yield the best product. Thus it is sometimes necessary to use both models on the same project:

Using the right color system means printed materials that pop with brilliant, crisp colors. Knowing the difference between CMYK and PMS match inks makes all the difference in accurately adapting computer- and web-based documents into stunning hard copies.