There’s a lot more to understanding color than meets the eye.
You’ve heard it before. Branding experts are always saying the same thing: you must have your exact brand color on EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE. Yet, when you try to get your design team on the same page, you end up frustrated. The brand colors on your printed materials never seem to match your brand colors online!
As a business owner with a successful, instantly recognizable brand, you want to be sure that your brand’s color(s) always look the same as often as possible, whether online or in print.
The keys to consistent brand colors consist of: knowing how to determine/choose your exact brand color, and understanding the limitations of each medium, whether online or in print. To help you out, I’m going to break it all down and explain what all these silly color acronyms mean and how they can affect your branding.
Do you know your brand’s PMS colors? You should! It’s especially important for corporate identities and branded images.
“Pantone” refers to the spot color matching system created by Pantone, Inc. Pantone spot colors are solid inks with assigned numbers; so, a specific Pantone color will always look the same no matter who prints it, or what it’s printed on. You pick your exact color (PMS + #) out of a book of colors, then you stick with that PMS #.
Also Known As: Pantone Matching System | PMS color | spot color
Pros: Exact printed brand color every time. Specialty inks like metallics and fluorescents are also available.
Cons: Pre-mixed spot colors are expensive to print.
Easy-To-Spot Format: PMS 123 (PMS + #)
CMYK is an acronym for a print system consisting of 4 colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black. A variety of colors are produced when these four colors are mixed together in different ratios. This process is often called four-color printing.
Also Known As: 4-color | 4C | process colors
Cons: PMS colors don’t always come out exact when ‘translated’ to CMYK. CMYK tends to add a slight shade of black or gray to some colors (especially bright colors), so they end up looking dull or dim. There’s no guarantee that CMYK printing can be reproduced exactly the same every time, even within the same print job.
Easy-To-Spot Format: 50 30 100 10 (4 sets of numbers from 0-100)
TIP! If your brand color never turns out accurately in print, ask your printer to use the four-color process and add your brand’s specific pantone color. If you have one brand color, you’ll end up with a 5-color job (4-color process + 1 spot color) or if you have two brand colors, a 6-color job (4-color process + 2 spot colors).
RGB is a color acronym for Red, Green, Blue. (This is not to be confused with the primary colors of the color wheel, RYB: Red, Yellow, Blue.) RGB is used only for screen displays. Using this method of color combination, you can see up to 16.7 million colors!
Pros: Your brand colors will look exactly right on screen. (See Monitor section below.)
Cons: 16.7 million colors can be seen, but all 16.7 million colors can’t be printed.
Easy-To-Spot Format: 255 123 53 (3 sets of numbers from 0-255)
Hex is a web-safe color system made up of only a portion of the values in the RGB 255 range. Hex uses a base multiple of 16, (rather than 10) consisting of numbers 0-9 and letters A-F. Make sense? Not so much? Check out this short video for a neat explanation.
Also Known As: Hexadecimal | Hex Value
Pros: Can accurately translate from print to screen.
Cons: Available colors limited mostly to darker values.
Easy-To-Spot Format: #00FF66 [3 sets of hex pairs (numbers or letters) from 00-FF]
Ink reacts differently on different types of paper. So, the paper and ink you use will affect the look of your brand. For example, the more glossy the paper, the more the ink will stay neatly on its surface, resulting in more accurate color. If you choose an uncoated paper, or a paper with little to no finish, the more the ink will soak into the paper, changing your color accuracy.
Have you ever shopped for a television? I’m always amazed by all the different color qualities and clarities between brands, or even between TVs from the same brand. Well, when it comes to monitors, it’s no different. The monitor, monitor settings, and the computer platform can all affect how a color appears from computer to computer.
Color perfection isn’t going to happen on all platforms, or at all times. Often there will be a slight difference between each platform. However, if you’re aware of these limitations, and you’re aware of how your specific brand coloration is best expressed in each medium – then you can most effectively maintain the integrity of your brand colors!
Do you have any additional color questions or additions? Comment below.