The difference between Pantone, CMYK and RGB colour references

The difference between Pantone, CMYK and RGB colour references

The difference between Pantone, CMYK and RGB colour references

What is the basic difference between Pantone and CMYK colour?

The simplest explanation is that Pantone is a spot colour system and CMYK is a process printing system.
The Pantone Matching System (PMS), Pantone spot colours are solid inks, each assigned a unique number, that look the same no matter who prints them – which is what makes spot colour critical for corporate identities and brand images

CMYK colours, on the other hand, are created (processed) on the printing press by mixing four different colours: Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow (Y) and black (K).Since there are variations between presses, press operators and other factors, CMYK colours are not guaranteed to be perfectly reproduced between printers or even print jobs.


The Pantone® colour matching system

The Pantone Matching System is used to produce colours and artwork by creating inks in distinct standardised shades. Although they are created from just 13 base pigments the system has no less than 1,800 different colour options.

Each colour is labelled by a unique number, for example PMS 273 is a dark navy blue and anywhere in the world that reference will identify the same colour.

There are also a small number of Pantone colours that have a name rather than a number , for example Pantone Reflex blue, Warm red, Yellow and so on. Pantone numbers may be followed by a letter such as M, C or U and this refers to matte, coated or uncoated.

A different surface finish alters the reflectivity and may affect the exact colour of the Pantone.


The CMYK Colour Model

CMYK stands for the four ink colours that are applied during the printing process: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key [better known as black].

The term ‘key’ was originally used instead of black because the CMY plates in four-colour printing are ‘keyed’ (aligned) with the black plate’s key.

The CMYK colour model is subtractive, which means that in order to get lighter colours, the ink needs to be removed. Most at-home printers, high end colour laser printers, and industrial offset presses use CMYK ink colours. During the printing process, the printer will use mixtures of all four colours to print different colours.

It is important to note that if artwork is created in Pantone solid colours and then converted to CMYK it may be that perfect reproduction is not possible. For this reason, CMYK references are not as reliable as Pantone colours in maintaining consistent colours.

RGB colours

RGB stands for red, green, and blue. Most digital images are produced using these primary colours, such as those on your computer screens, mobile device or digital camera.

Surprisingly, the RGB model is a light additive colour model which means that the 3 elements are added together to create lighter colours – combining 100% red, green, and blue produces an absolute white.

Different percentage combinations will result in other colours, eg. when red and green are added together, you get yellow; red and blue produce magenta, and green and blue make cyan.

When using RGB references for printing it is necessary to convert the file to other colour models and this can lead to colour variation. Really not ideal for accurate colour printing.

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