What is PMS, and Why is It Important in Printing? October 29 2014

The accuracy of color is critical in design. Because what you see on your monitor is never what will appear on a printed sheet, designers need a standardized color key.

It can be very frustrating to see the logo you worked hard to create look deep blue on the client's letterhead, blue-greenish on his business card, and light blue on his very expensive envelopes.

A way to prevent this is by using a standardized color matching system, such as the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM. Though PANTONE is not the only color standardization system, it is the most widely used and the one that most printers understand. Aside from being able to have consistency, PANTONE Colors allow you to use colors that cannot be mixed in CMYK.

Different Matches for Different Color Lovers

Pantone creates matching systems for more than graphic designers. For the purposes of t
his article, however, we'll focus on those systems typical of print designs.

Pantone offers chip books that help designers see how colors look on coated, uncoated, and matte stock. PANTONE Colors are distinguished by numbers and a suffix. While the number indicates the PANTONE Color itself, and is standard across all types of stock, the suffix indicates the media or stock, which affects how the ink is formulated to achieve the specific color.

Guides Through a Colorful World

There are several types of swatch guides that catalog the colors of the PANTONE Library. Some are narrow swatch books made of strips bound on one end with printed rectangular samples showing the different PANTONE Colors. The strips can then be opened or spread out in a fan-like manner. There are also binders with chips (rectangular swatches) that can be torn out and sent to a client with a proof, so that the client knows how his colors will look when printed.

Some of the PANTONE Colors can be reproduced by mixing CMYK inks while others must be pre-mixed inks. Pantone has guides for their spot colors (called "Solid" or premixed ink colors by Pantone) and guides which show the Process colors. Samples in the process guides are therefore colors achievable through mixing CMYK (or "process") inks. A special guide also shows you the spot color and how it will look printed in CMYK along with CMYK values. This way, if spot colors, which are an added expense at print time, cannot be used, close colors may be mixed in process.

Same Colour, Different Looks

The type of paper used, will affect the appearance of colors. In separate swatch or chip books, Pantone shows you how their colors look on coated, uncoated, and matte paper. Therefore you have the number of the color (for example, PANTONE Red 032) followed by a suffix, which indicates on what stock your PANTONE Color is meant to be printed. If you want PANTONE Red 032 on shiny paper, then you would specify the color in this manner: PANTONE 032 C, where C stands for "coated". You then have U, which stands for "uncoated", and then M, which stands for "matte". You get:

C = coated U = uncoated M = matte

These three are the most important PANTONE Library abbreviations. You may, however, encounter the abbreviation CV followed by C, U or M. CV stands for Computer Video, which is the electronic representation of the PANTONE Colors. Now discontinued, but still seen in old versions of software, CV merely meant that the color was an on-screen simulation.

There are also specialty guides for tints, metallic and pastel colors.

One note of warning: If you use a color with a certain suffix, don't use it again with another suffix in the same publication, unless there is an actual need for that, such as when you use a color on a 4-colour glossy magazine with an insert printed on bond paper. In this case you would be using the same color both on coated and matte paper. If you use two different suffixes in the same publication, your desktop publishing software will see the color as two different colors and this will cause the production of one extra plate, and therefore the expense of extra money. So, use them only when necessary.

Digital Color Guides for Your DTP Applications

Most modern creative applications ship with all the relevant PANTONE Libraries pre-installed. Adobe Illustrator, for example, includes complete Coated, Uncoated, Matte, Metallic, Fluorescent, and Pastel colors, among others. Latest versions of these software programs offer up-to-date PANTONE Libraries with the exception of the new PANTONE® COLOR BRIDGE™ library (previously known as solid to process). This updated library may be downloaded free from Pantone for use with Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, QuarkXPress, Macromedia FreeHand, CorelDRAW and Corel Designer. Even if you don't have those programs, the generic EPS and TIFF file versions may be used to import the PANTONE Color swatches into most other applications.