What is the Pantone Color System?
By Stephen Bucaro
You may be familiar with the CMYK color system (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black)
used in the printing industry, and the RGB color system (red, green, and blue) used
for computer displays, but did you know the most frequently used color system is
the Pantone system?
Pantone standard swatch book
The Pantone system is used mostly to specify colors manufacturing processes. It
involves the use of 13 base pigments and white and black mixed in specified amounts.
The name "Pantone" comes from the name of the company that developed the system
back in the 1950s. Pantone colors are described by their number, for example PMS 130.
Pantone asserts that their lists of color numbers and pigment values are the intellectual
property of Pantone and free use of the list is not allowed. For this reason Pantone colors
are supported only in the most expensive graphics applications. Non-the-less the
Pantone system is commonly used to specify colors in manufacturing and in company
branding. In fact the U.S. Government Printing Office specifies Pantone 186 and 288 for
the red and blue colors of the United States flag.
In 2001 the Pantone company began providing translations of their existing system to
the CMYK and RGB systems, but many of their colors just cannot be translated to other
color systems. For example their Hexachrome six-color printing process uses the CMYK
colors with added orange and green inks to expand the color range.
If you need to specify a very specific color to a manufacturer, the only way to be
absolutely positive they get it exactly right is specify a Pantone color number so that
they can match the color to a Pantone standard color chip.
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