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Using colour in design is no new idea. It has been around since the stone age. The trouble is, technology moves on, markets change and we now have a whole host of colours, not just red and green for our cave paintings.

Colour has brought the world of print and design to life, but how do you choose a colour when designing for print?

First, what are the options?

Pantone (spot colours) or CMYK (process colours).

Pantone colour chart

What is the difference?

Pantone (spot colours) are a single ink / toner, mixed from a specific recipe to produce a consistent, specific colour. Do not be fooled though, materials, temperature and finishes can have an effect on the final colour, so be sure to use them correctly.

CMYK (process colours) are 4 coloured inks / toner, that when combined, can produce almost any colour you can think of.

So why not just use CMYK?

Well, as simple as life would be, you cannot get the full vividness of bright colours, or even the consistency of Pantone colours using the CMYK process. With 4 inks / toners to vary, the difference can be enhanced when printing on different materials, using some finishes and even in varying humidity. Pantone is a single ink / toner, so the difference is greatly reduced.

Then just use Pantone, right?

Wrong. Even with the Pantone library of colours, you cannot produce every colour. In some cases, therefore, you cannot work with just Pantone colours. Even if you could, to print a photograph using Pantone colours would require a press as long as the Golden Gate bridge, printing millions of colours! It would cost a fortune!!

So, what can we do then?

Simple, use both methods. The key is to make sure you use them correctly.

A Pantone is a specific colour, so use it for things like logo’s, corporate colours and branding. This will ensure your colour is as accurate as possible when printing these critical elements. Stick to large print runs as much as possible, as the cost of adding additional Pantone colours is quite high!

CMYK can then be used for images, text and backgrounds, to plug the colour gaps that Pantone colours cannot fill.

Most printers can print both on the same machine, at the same time, but don’t use too many Pantones, as they are expensive to set up. If you use 6 pantones and CMYK, you would have a 10 colour job that would cost a lot! Limit your use of Pantones to one or two per job. It costs more than just using CMYK, but the end result is worth it if you want a specific colour, every time.