Monday, May 18, 2009


CMYK vs PMS. Such fun. ;~)

I was inspired by
fellow blogger, Mark Reyland (Just My Opinion), who took on the subject of PMS and CMYK color and how it relates to packaging and product design choices.

He's right, the majority of projects printed on offset presses use the CMYK method of printing.

CMYK is also referred to as 4-color process or process colors. The ink lays down on the paper one color at a time (C = Cyan, M = Magenta, Y = Yellow and K = Black) in miniature dots. The colored dots combine to create an image. This type of printing is typically used whenever photography or illustration is used in graphic design.

The Pantone Matching System aka PMS is also referred to as spot color. Spot color is used primarily when it is imperative to match (nearly exact) color for a particular brand (i.e. as in the case with pro-sports teams or brands that are renowned for using particular colors). It is a solid color and is used a lot on letterhead, business cards, and jobs where the design doesn't include photography or imagery with a blend of color.

You can save money by using PMS colors if you use less than 4 colors. A nifty trick is that you can use transparencies of a color (i.e. reducing the transparency of a color can provide a wide gamut of tints), and you're literally only using one color on press. As you can see below, one color can yield a variety of "colors." Black transparencies have grey tints, red transparencies tinge pink.

PMS and CMYK printing is not the same.

PMS is broken down into PMS C vs. PMS U (colors appropriate for Coated sheets vs. Uncoated sheets of paper). Selecting the color depends on your paper choice.

And while there is a way to convert color from PMS to CYMK and vice versa, it is difficult to match a PMS color exactly when printing using CMYK. The transition just doesn't translate very well.

Printers can also mix PMS colors to create custom colors. Of course, this is not as cost effective as just choosing one from the PMS book.

One of my absolute favorite books, since I became engaged in this industry, is Leatrice Eiseman's - The Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color. She goes into great depth re: color, symbology, meaning, and emotional connection. She also breaks down PMS color combinations that work well in unison.

Here's some fun with colors and their meanings: (I pulled these off of fellow blogger Dyango Chavez's blog at

  • Red: This is the hottest of the colors. It is energetic, full of life, vibrant and active. It is also one of the most visible colors. It is associated with passion, life, masculinity, energy, danger, anger, blood, fire and power.
  • Blue: This is a cold color. Dark blue has been associated with intelligence, stability, trust, depth and intellect. It is also the most calming and relaxing of the colors.
  • Green: This is also a cold color. It symbolizes health, nature, freshness, harmony and balance. It has been associated with money, spring and stability.
  • Orange: This is a warm color and very stimulating. It is associated with joy, vitality, creativity and energy. It is used to symbolize construction and is a great action trigger. It has been said to increases the craving for food.
  • Purple: This color can be cold or warm, depending on the amount of blue or red used in the mix. It is symbol of spirituality, luxury, royalty and power. In some cultures is also associated with disease.
  • Yellow: This is a warm color associated with energy, light, happiness, energy, creativity and the sun.
  • Black: This can be warm or cold, depending on the colors with which it is combined. It symbolizes elegancy, sophistication and mystery. In some cultures it is also a symbol of death.

The whole world, as we experience it visually, comes to us through the mystic realm of color. - Hans Hofmann -



  1. Great information, I had no idea:-)

  2. Thanks Sally. :~) This is just the tip of the iceberg really, as are most subjects in this field. It's crazy how detailed everything is. Thanks for reading!

  3. Good luck with your new blog. It's a great way to connect the dots, in every way. If you like fun color tools, check this one out. Fair warning though, it's addictive!idee multicolr search lab (sorry, I couldn't link from my blog to yours...but just google it and it's a blast).

    Have fun! Kim

  4. WOW! Thanks for the recommendation Kimtb! What an awesome site! I must post this link!

  5. For me CMYK is the best I use it in my 4 color printing process and its work well.

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