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What is Pantone?

Here’s your guide to the Pantone world: Pantone Matching System, CMYK, and of course, Pantone color of the year.

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Everything You Need to Know About Pantone

Imagine that you finished working on your last project and sent it to your client for their feedback. After a while, when the revisions arrive, you notice that the requests seem a bit vague; “I want that yellow part to be a bit more saturated” or “Wouldn’t it be better if the red you used was a little darker, like in our logo?”.

From time to time, moments like these may leave you asking for a uniform platform that will simplify the interactions between you and your clients regarding the colors you use in your designs. And that’s exactly where Pantone steps in to save everyone from trouble.

You have probably already heard of Pantone, Pantone Color of The Year, or celebrities and brands that copyright specific Pantone colors and name them as they like. So, what is Pantone? The company Pantone, meaning ‘all colors’ by combining pan and tone, is widely known for its color matching system named PMS (Pantone Matching System).

Once a printing company, Pantone created the color matching system in 1963 as a large number of small cardboard sheets displaying different colors printed by Pantone. The Pantone color matching system serves one useful purpose; streamlining color determination processes by allowing all users from various channels to access a unified color-coding system. Thanks to Pantone’s different collections of colors, even manufacturers from different countries can determine the exact color they need to use and avoid any inconsistencies along the way. In this article, we will examine how Pantone Matching System works, how it is different from the CMYK system, and what Pantone Color of The Year is.


Pantone Matching System: How Does It Work?

While in the design process of a product, clients can have various requests from you as a designer. And requests regarding the colors may become harder to fulfill as you can never be sure how your clients see and interpret the color you used. Be as specific as you like; verbal interpretations of colors can never be enough to be fully understandable by both parties. Or, let’s say your design will be placed on many surfaces with many different features regarding how they reflect light and portray color.

Or, a brand may switch their supplier and need to find a way to copy the color their former supplier used. Or even manufacturers have to deal with fluctuations in colors between subsequent production runs. You may be wondering, “what do these scenarios have in common?” And before you ask, these are the kind of cases that cause the very existence of Pantone Matching System today, a unified system that allows users to share and transfer color information across platforms regardless of them being physical or digital.

Pantone has two different color systems: Pantone Matching System (PMS) and Pantone Fashion, Home, Interiors System (FHI). These two distinct systems are created because of different needs for different use cases. The Fashion, Home, Interiors system identifies different colors for industries like fashion and furniture that will require more whites and neutral colors in the palette. On the other hand, the Pantone Matching System is specially created for graphic design needs that will require more flashy and bright colors that will pop out when used in printed areas like advertorials or packaging.

Colors in Pantone Matching System are uniquely named in order to allow users from all over the world to refer to the same exact color through a code consisting of a three or four-digit numeric code and a letter. All color codes from Pantone Matching System include a letter identifying the type of paper the color is printed on. U means uncoated paper and refers to normal paper without a coating, while the letter C refers to the coated or glossed paper. Also, the letter M refers to the matte paper. With these letters, designers can tell how the color they’ve chosen will look on a specific type of surface.


Pantone vs. CMYK—What’s the Difference?

While reading about the Pantone Matching System, you may have thought about ‘What were we doing before Pantone created the PMS?’ For a short answer, we were doing the same thing but with way less accuracy. Another method for identifying print colors based on the four main colors used in the printing process, CMYK, uses the percentage of each color used in order to identify various colors. The CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. While this system uses these four colors to identify and specify colors, Pantone uses 13 base pigments and aims for much more precise results when it comes to identifying unique colors.

The main difference between Pantone Matching System and CMYK is the level of accuracy since the CMYK determines colors based on the ratio of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow or Black included in the color while the PMS is a color-specific system that use highly precise mixes to match a color. Thanks to the precision that comes with PMS; designers, manufacturers, producers, or printers can all achieve the same satisfactory result by using the Pantone code for a color.


Pantone Color of the Year

Since the year 2000, The Pantone Color Institute selected ‘Pantone 15-4020 Cerulean’ as Color of The Year. Since then, this selection has served as a trendsetter for the next year’s branding and design practices. While picking the Color of The Year, Pantone takes many fields into consideration, such as fashion, social media, marketing, art, and even politics. The past years’ events and upcoming forecast for the next year come together in creating the color that will represent the next year’s marketing and design trend for Pantone.

For example, Color of The Year 2019 was Pantone 16-1546 TCX Living Coral, 2020 was Pantone 19-4052 Classic Blue, and 2021 was Pantone 17-5104 Ultimate Gray and PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating together. Finally, on December 8th, this year’s Color of The Year was revealed as Pantone 17-3938 Very Peri, and it was celebrated at ARTECH House art gallery in New York by artist Ceci Johnson’s immersive works.

(Color of 2022, Very Peri)

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