What Are Pantone Colors?

The Pantone Color Matching System (PMS) is the most widely used color reproduction system using in printing, digital technology, textiles, and other industries around the world. It enables designers, printers, and publishers to ensure accuracy and consistency in color matching. When working on a project, people in different locations can refer to a Pantone color by its name. This way, everyone will be on the same page, which will help you avoid reprints. This system has become particularly important as we’ve moved to digital, since computer monitor settings often vary.


Pantone was started as a commercial printing company in the 1950s. When Lawrence Herbert joined the company, he realized how difficult it was for people to communicate and reproduce colors and decided to use his chemistry knowledge to develop a solution. Herbert bought Pantone in 1962 and the following year, he launched the first PMS swatch book with just 10 colors. The company has since expanded and is on an “unwavering quest to become the universal language of color.” In addition to its widely popular Color of the Year, Pantone does trend forecasting, licensing, and color consulting.

How It Works

Pantone sells swatch guides, or chip books, that display colors on coated, uncoated, and matte stock, which will affect how the ink looks when printed. Each color has corresponding numbers, which identity the color itself, and a suffix to indicate the type of stock. You can also find the colors on their website, although they will look different on a monitor than they will when printed. To help you achieve the closest match, the Pantone website also offers color values for RGB, HEX/HTML, and CMYK. (RGB and HTML are used on monitors; CMYK is used in printing. Check out our blog post to learn more.)

Some Pantone colors can be recreated by mixing CMYK colors, while others require pre-mixed inks, which are referred to as “spot colors.” Printers can order these spot colors (they’re mixed by manufacturers licensed by Pantone) or mix the colors themselves using the ink mixing formulas in the Pantone Formula Guide.

If you’re looking to get the closest color match, using Pantone mixed ink will be your best bet. To do this, you’ll need to use offset printing rather than digital (learn about these two printing methods here), which uses CMYK colors. However, if using Pantone ink is not option (it may be more expensive), the Pantone Formula Guide provides values for CMYK, as well as a preview of what it will look like. Spot colors are created by mixing up to 18 different inks, as opposed to the four used in the CMYK process, so the spot colors may appear brighter and more vivid.

Still have questions about what to use for your prints? Contact us.