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What are Pantone colours?

By Steffen Andersen · 10. June 2020

Pantone colours are a widely used colour system when it comes to industrial printing and especially printing on boats, cars, and other objects that want to get more specific colours printed on the surface.

It is also the only colour system, where you are able to take a patent on a specific colour, so you are the only company that is allowed to use that specific colour, the Danish freight company Maersk has a patent on their light blue colour. 

In this article, we will go into depth with what Pantone colours are, what makes them able to make such specific colours and how they are printed on objects. 

The reason why Pantone colours are called it is that the Pantone colours were made by a company called Pantone, and it was also this company that invented the Pantone Matching System.

The Pantone Matching System was made so designers, companies, and other interested parties could be sure that the colour they chose would be the same on all of their platforms.

This means that when people refer to a Pantone colour it is the colour that are specified in the Pantone Matching System, so the Pantone system is primarilly made to make it easy for designers to communicate with each other.

The Pantone matching system is an ever-evolving system of colours, to make colours more and more specific.

When the Pantone Colour Matching system was invented it had 1114 colours, and today it has more than 3000 different Pantone colours with a specific Pantone code, that can be used for printing purposes. 

How are Pantone colours mixed?

The Pantone colours in the Pantone Matching System is made by mixing spot colours. Spot colours are also known as solid colours, which is one colour that can both be pure and mixed colour, as long as it is only one colour.

The Pantone Matching System works by a palette of 18 spot colours🎨, and these colours are then mixed via their own unique ink formula developed by Pantone.

The process is very similar to when working with colours when you were a child, only the Pantone formula is a lot more accurate. 

Since the very essence of the Pantone Matching System is the accuracy of the Pantone colours, the manufacturers using Pantone colours also need to have a license from Pantone.

To keep the license the manufacturers annually have to submit samples of their 18 basic colours, they use for mixing the colours. 

When it comes to printing the mixed Pantone Colours it is actually quite easy to do for both small and large production set-ups.

For the smaller printing agencies, the standard would be to mix the Pantone colours by hand, where the large printing agencies would have machinery that could mix the Pantone colours before the print is applied to the objects. 

How does Pantone colour codes work?

When making a design or print file using Pantone colours to know the code of the Pantone colour you wish to have in your design.

The system for printing the ink on paper is referred to using a three- or four-digit number followed by C or U.

This refers to colours that can be used on paper which is coated/glossy paper, and U, of course, refers to paper that is uncoated.

There are also some Pantone colours which are referred to by the named colours such as the 18 base colours like Pantone Reflex Blue C. 

Since the Pantone Matching System is made to make it easy to match very specific colours, there are of course a lot of variations to these numbers and how they are used.

So as an example with Pantone Metallics the three- or four-digit number that begins with “8”, and if it is for Premium Pantone Metallics the three- or four-digit number that begins with “10”.

If the Pantone colours are to be used by the plastic sector, the start of the three- or four-digit number would normally be “Q” or “T”.

This means that the letter or number before the three- or four-digit number, will indicate what the Pantone is going to be used for and the specifics of it. 

CMYK vs Pantone colours

Printing agencies will often have the possibility of choosing between using Pantone and CMYK colours, and there are primarily two things they take into consideration.

The first one and probably the most important one is how specific the colours can be because CMYK colours can only show 70% of all the colours that are visible to the human eye, where Pantone colours can show a lot more colours and especially bright colours.

The second thing is how many colours needs to be printed in the design because CMYK uses 4 base colours to create a wide spectrum of colours and you’ll be able to choose as many of these colours without any additional cost💰.

But with Pantone colours the colours are mixed individually and you would then pay for each colour you choose to have in the design. 

Where are Pantone colours used?

As written at the start Pantone colours are primarilly used for printing on transport vehicles, such as trucks, boats, and etc.

It is though also used for printing on packaging, textile and other products which are not plain and easy to print on.

This is due to the Pantone colours not being mixed when they are being put on the product, but the colours have been mixed before it touches which makes them more specific. 

Some manufacturers do also use Pantone colours to keep the cost of the printing low by choosing to only print one colour, whereas with CMYK colours the manufacturers would always be able to print more many colours in the print, so the start-up cost would be higher. 

Content and Marketing Manager at Limepack

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