A Comprehensive Guide to Pantone Swatches

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An Introduction to Pantone Swatches

The Pantone company has been setting the standard for universal color systems and calibrations for over 40 years with their “Pantone Matching System (PMS).”  This color matching system allows for a synergy between pre-press professionals, graphic designers and printing companies by assuring the exact final color result for a print job.  Supported by all graphic design software packages including but not limited to Photoshop, Illustrator and QuarkXPress, Pantone has become the undeniable necessity in the print industry, especially since it is a world standard among the printing industry, by conveniently assigning numbers to hundreds of colors and shades, and classifying color subsets.

Color Basics

Color 101: A Review of the Different Types

Pantone has released many different swatch sets through the years, along with many great features, such as RGB/CMYK comparison and even HTML# colors. Here’s a basic breakdown of different color categories:

CMYK: The standard for printing, which blends the ink colors of Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow(Y) and Black (K or Key). This is also known as “process,” “full process,” or “4-color process.” CMYK printing uses “halftones,” or lighter shades of the four colors, to represent lighter versions of a color.

RGB: The color template primarily used for computer screens by web designers, composed of the three colors Red, Green and Blue. These are also known as the Primary Colors. RGB tends to look more vibrant and versatile than CMYK, although it involves a different printing process and is not commonly used for that purpose. In printing, RGB is performed with each color on its own “plate.” When each plate is overlayed, the final image appears. For TVs and computer monitors, each pixel represents one of the RGB colors.

Spot Colors: This term usually refers to CMYK, but is mainly used in the industry to define a non-standard color (such as a metallic or fluorescent). Most printing companies charge extra for the usage of spot colors.

Paper Types

How Paper Affects Color Output

The next step in understanding Pantone colors and choosing the right swatch book is to think about the type of paper you’ll be printing on. Paper is also called “stock” and is measured by its thickness in “pounds” or “#.” Pantone offers separate books based upon different paper types. The basic types are outlined below:

Coated: Coated paper, much like its name suggests, is coated with a compound to make it appear smooth to the touch, glossy, or shiny. Ink painted on the surface of coated paper generally looks rich and vibrant. It usually has ultraviolet protection to help prevent fading. Most corporate brochures and high-quality mailouts use coated paper.

Uncoated: Uncoated paper does not have any kind of coating, and tends to absorb ink more than coated paper. Newspapers and circulars use uncoated paper.

Matte: Matte paper is basically favored by those doing photographic prints, as it has a flat yet smooth surface, and an great ability to display accurate color representations.

Pantone Specialty Inks

Other Ink Sets that are Worth Recognition

Beyond the standard ink types, Pantone also offers swatch sets based on specialty inks. They include:

Pantone Metallic Swatches: Metallic ink represents shades of silver, gold, bronze and other colors. Although they appear to be flat-shaded on a computer screen, they wind up printing with a shimmering effect, due to the fact that special metal filings are included within the ink itself.

Pantone Pastel Swatches: Pastel colors are soft and “powdery” in appearance and typically associated with the Spring season. Pantone has released a separate booklet just for pastels.

Pantone Tints: An interesting and new inclusion, which shows you the tint variations of basic colors from 10% to 80% lighter.

Choosing the Right Pantone Swatch Book

What Type of Work Will You Be Doing?

Now that you’ve gone through the basics, it’s time to think about what print work you’ll be doing. Here are several suggestions (assuming that you will be using either coated or uncoated paper, or a little of both):

Brochures, quality magazines, pamphlets, posters, book covers: You’ll most likely get a lot of use out of the “Pantone Coated” booklet.

Newspapers, circulars, business cards, invitations, letterheads, business letters, book pages: You’ll probably want to go with the “Pantone Uncoated” booklet.

Pantone also offers the “Color Bridge” booklet, which allows you to see how Pantone colors will look, when reproduced in CMYK format. It will also allow you to see the computer monitor color reproductions for Pantone colors.

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