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CMYK vs Pantone - Colour Matching for Print

When it comes to print and brand communication - colour is important.

Getting the right colour is key, as is ensuring colour consistency across multiple printed products.

There are many colour systems but the main two are CMYK and Pantone.

What does CMYK stand for?

CMYK or the 4 colour process as it’s also known, stands for the four colours used in the printing process: cyan, magenta, yellow and black

It’s the most popular method of printing and works by combining these four colours in various quantities to produce a wide range of colours.

If you zoom in on a printed picture produced by CMYK, you’ll notice it’s made up of lots of dots in the 4 colours. This allows for a wide variety of colours to be used in a small area and is what creates the impression of a solid colour.

It’s best suited for printing photos and multicoloured images, in fact most newspapers and magazines are printed using CMYK.

There are some limitations to CMYK such as the fact that it can’t produce colours to the same vibrancy as with Pantone colours. It also lacks consistency as colours can look different on each printer and even in the same document.

What about Pantone?

The Pantone Matching System was created by the Pantone company in 1963. It doesn’t use a combination of colours for each colour but rather it uses a precise mixture of ink to produce an exact colour. 

This means it has a high level of accuracy and consistency when producing colours. Each colour corresponds to a number which means that anyone can refer to the Pantone system and ensure their colours match.

The Pantone Matching System is well suited for branding and logos where precise colour matching is very important. It’s also used when special finishes are needed such as fluorescent and metallic colours or vibrant and darker tones.

A downside to using PMS however is the cost. You pay per number of colours and by coverage area so you wouldn’t want to be printing photos for example. 

The printer also has to be prepped for each different print job. It’s a process called lithographic printing which uses wet ink and printing plates with an image burned into them. This image is then transferred onto rubber blankets and then onto the printing surface. This setup can be a time-consuming process so it’s more cost effective to use it for large print jobs rather than small ones.

So which is best?

Well, this depends on what you want to print. For branding and logos the Pantone Matching System offers consistency and CMYK is good for when getting the exact colour match isn’t a major concern. 

However, every Pantone colour has a specific CMYK breakdown which can be used to ensure the CMYK print is as close a match to the Pantone as it can be.

It’s worth bearing in mind that printing in general, whether with CMYK or Pantone can have variances. There are many factors which could affect the end result such as the material you’re printing onto and the finish that is then applied to this material and the type of printer used. Colours can also look different on screen to the physical product. 

Still unsure?

Here at Shropshire Printing, we can talk you through these options and anything else you want to know about the printing process.

Give us a call on 01952 884 556 or email us at [email protected]