What's the difference between Pantone and CMYK colours? When should I use them?

Posted by Sarah Mclennan on 22-Oct-2018 14:05:09
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Colour is one of the most essential aspects in packaging design – more than 65% of consumers purchasing decisions involve it. Therefore, it’s crucial not only to choose the right colours for your packaging but to determine how you'll achieve the original vision on the press.

This brings us to CMYK and Pantone PMS colours. It’s critical to understand the difference between them to ensure your packaging meets your expectations. In this blog post, you’ll learn the best time to use them, and how the chosen printing method can affect the outcome.

What is CMYK?

What is CMYK? The 4 colours are cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

CMYK, also known as ‘four colour process’, stands for the colours used in the printing process: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK. On a printing press, each of these four colours is printed separately, one layered on top of the other, to create an infinite range of colours.

What is Pantone?

What is pantone? A pantone colour is a standardised colour in the pantone matching system (PMS)

A Pantone colour is an international standardised colour in the Pantone Matching System (PMS). You may also hear it referred to as spot colours or special inks. Pantone colours are highly precise ink mixes that create an exact colour that can consistently be reproduced.

The Pantone colour book is a catalogue of colour for printing, a bit like a paint colour swatch book that you use for painting your house. Each colour has a 3, 4 or 5 digit identifier.



CMYK vs Pantone - Which is better?

The answer depends on your design, the chosen packaging material (substrate), the print method you’ll use, your printing budget and your expectations.

Here are some common scenarios and the recommended approach:

When you need an exact colour

Pantone colours are often desirable in this situation because they come out the same every time. The PMS system works very well when you need a precise colour match for a particular element in the packaging design.

A typical example would be brand or logo colours, such as the Coca-Cola red or Cadbury purple. These need to be precisely the same every time and controlled independently from other elements in the design.

The problem with CMYK in this scenario is that it uses four different colours which are printed on top of one another to make one colour – and the margin for error is enormous from press to press.

When you need small text and logos to print sharp

Using Pantone colours for your project can also prevent small text or logos from appearing fuzzy, particularly when using white text on a coloured background.

Again, CMYK uses four printing plates and four layers of colour, and with that, there’s a risk that the plates will shift slightly during printing. This will result in colours that bleed into white areas. With a PMS colour, there is only one printing plate used, which eliminates the chance of bleeding.

When you’re printing colour photographs

CMYK is necessary when reproducing colour photographs because it is the only approach that can create the thousands of colours and tones needed to make up an image.

When you need to keep your costs down

Printing costs go up with each additional plate that you use.

CMYK is a cost-effective solution since you can create many different colours using only the four inks and plates. With each spot or Pantone colour used, additional plates and inks are required which in turn increases your printing costs.


How the printing method impacts the choice of CMYK or Pantone colours

With advances in process printing and plate technologies, many Pantone colours can now be closely recreated using the 4 colour CMYK approach. However it does depend on the colours in the design – some colours are more difficult to reproduce in CMYK than others. For example, orange is notoriously hard to reproduce in CMYK.

Need some help deciding which colour system and printing method are best to achieve your packaging vision? We can advise you, contact us today.

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Topics: packaging design, packaging printing, food packaging, master concept design, CMYK, Pantone

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