Pantone Color Matching: What It Is & Why You Should Use It

Posted by Tom Hand on Oct 27, 2016 4:24:47 PM in Inside Ace Exhibits

Pantone Color Matching.png

“Your artwork’s colors are off. We need you to fix it in order for us to print your design correctly and meet your deadline.”


Have you gotten this email? Or voicemail? Has your stomach dropped as you read/listened to the words?

How can the color be off?! What does that even mean?!

Many of the people we work with are confused/distressed when they receive this information. Most of them are not graphic designers. They’re marketing, sales, or business development specialists. They’re designing displays by default and have valiantly muscled their way through the process. They’re happy to have created a design, had it approved, and successfully sent the file to us.

Sound familiar?

As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” This is especially true when it comes to display design and color matching. Sadly, many non-designers don’t know to check their software’s color settings before they begin creating. The result is this gut-wrenching, stress-inducing, time-sucking message when the artwork file is received by our pre-press experts.

So what’s the fix?

One word: Pantone.

If you interact with professional printers in any capacity, you may have heard the term Pantone colors. It’s obviously related to color, but chances are no one’s fully explained its importance. Understanding what Pantone colors are and what they do can save you time, reduce your stress, and improve your efficiency.

All Colors are Not Made Equal

In the world of graphic design, there are two types of color:

  1. RGB (red/green/blue) which is used by displays, like computer screens, projectors, and any media form involving light filtering through the colors.
  2. CYMK (cyan/yellow/magenta/black) involves ink being applied to and absorbed by a material (i.e., paper, fabric, plastic, etc.).

Unless you’re an experienced graphic designer, it’s natural to assume that the same color on your screen (RGB) will be outputted on a printing press (CYMK). What you see is what you get, right? There’s nothing indicating otherwise. You don’t even realize there are two different color “languages” involved. You design, you save, you send the artwork. Done…

… Until you get the baffling message that your colors are off.


The Story Behind Pantone Colors

Pantone is a New York company founded in 1956 by Lawrence Herbert. Mr. Herbert was a chemist who used his science skills to “systemize and standardize” pigments used in the commercial printing process.

To over simplify, he developed the CYMK ink “recipe” system that allows professional printers to accurately and consistently create specific colors. Each color recipe is given a number, and each number designates the color on coated (shiny) or uncoated (matte) paper. These recipes/numbers became known as the Pantone Matching System (PMS). In the vernacular, they’re referred to as Pantone colors.

Pantone (PMS) colors are design industry standards. The company is known for their signature 6x2 inch square color swatches. You might have seen them on mugs , mouse pads, and other accessories, and wondered “what’s the big deal?”

The big deal is Pantone (PMS) colors ensure the colors you see on your computer screen are the same colors that will be printed on your trade show display.


Four-color printing (ink) isn’t an exact science. Pantone revolutionized the professional printing industry with its numbered “recipe” system. This was huge. HUGE!

However, how an ink-created color looks depends on the medium it’s applied to. A Pantone color printed on newsprint will vary from the same color printed on a bright white cardstock and a swath of stretch fabric. Why? Because each surface absorbs the ink differently.

So why use the Pantone Matching System?

Pantone minimizes the differences. They’re based on the four-ink standard every commercial printing press uses. They put you in the driver’s seat and reduce unwanted anomalies. Compared to RGB-specified colors, they give you greater control and a more exact outcome regardless of your medium.

RGB To CMYK Color Shifts.png

Converting Color from RGB to CYMK

If you use any Adobe Creative Suite programs (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator), changing your color language can be done any time in the creative process. These programs are industry standards and include pre-loaded Pantone libraries. Using the Swatch window, select Add New Swatch. The CYMK window will display the Pantone libraries. Choose your color and the software adds it to the swatch palette.

InDesign Color Selection.jpg

What are your options if you don’t have access to these programs?

Most programs will allow a file to be saved in PDF format. Adobe Acrobat Pro has a color converting option in its Tools menu. It doesn’t give you specific Pantone colors like Adobe Creative Suite programs, but it does change your file’s color language to CYMK. From there you’ll need to work with the printer to assign Pantone numbers to the colors.

PDF Convert Color.jpg

Ace Exhibit’s PMS Coloring Matching Service

We know you work hard to get your artwork files made, approved, and into our system. We developed our Artwork Upload to make the process faster and easier. The last thing we want to do is deliver the your-colors-are-off message or to deliver a graphic that is less than stunning.

As is the Ace Exhibit way, we’re proactive. Along with our graphic templates, our Artwork Guidelines with Pantone color matching specifics, and our online experts, we also offer our PMS Color Matching Service.

The PMS Color Matching Service gives you the ability to match colors to the Pantone Formula Guide. It is an extra service and does add 24 hours to your production time. However, it does ensure you get the color you’re expecting on your graphic.

Color is crucial to conveying brands, products, and establishing presence. It shouldn’t be a stress point. Understanding and using Pantone colors is a sure-fire way to ensure what you see is what you get. They eliminate guesswork and reduce the margin of error. Up your game by giving them a try. We’re happy to help you!

Do you have a Pantone success story you’d like to share? We want to hear about it! Share it in the Comments section. If you still have questions about Pantone colors and how they pertain to your project, please contact out experts via online chat or call 877-986-4303.

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