CMYK vs Pantone vs RGB – Color Systems Explained

Visual communication is gaining more and more importance nowadays, which is characterized by oversaturation with information and sensory experiences. It is very important for each brand that its message and identity are currently recognized in the multitude of advertising and PR activities to which potential consumers and customers are exposed.

Colors play a very important role in brand recognition and its distinction in relation to competitors. That is why marketing and brand managers try to make their corporate communications “colored” in a recognizable and unique way, and then color systems enter the scene, among which the most important are: CMYK, Pantone and RGB.

CMYK color system

CMYK inks are applied in printing, which can be done on different surfaces: paper, textile, plastic … There are four process inks: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key / Black, by combining which it is possible to achieve a very large number of colors and tones in production, which we also call color printing or full color printing.

The CMYK color system is the most common in today’s printing, among other things because it reduces production costs. By applying four process paints, a quality reproduction of demanding photographs and graphics, magazines, brochures, posters, etc. is achieved. Therefore, digital and offset printing, as well as printing on home and office ink jet printers, ie photocopiers, are based on this principle.

CMYK color values ​​are expressed as a percentage, so that the designation C: 0 M: 100 Y: 100 K: 0 indicates the use of magenta and yellow in a coating of 100%, which gives a bright red color (so-called Ferrari red). In the same way, a green color would be obtained by mixing C: 100 M: 0 Y: 100 K: 0.

Pantone color system

Pantone or spot colors are created from the need of brands to have a unique and recognizable identity, which is reflected in the authentic color code, or the brand’s protective colors. An important feature of Pantone ink is that it is mixed before the printing process and as such is applied to the surface. Unlike printing with the use of CMYK inks, where the planned effect is achieved through two, three or four coats, here one print of the desired color is obtained in one pass.

Pantone Matching System (PMS) is a licensed color matching system that allows the standardization of colors used in printing based on a unique code. Pantone color codes are three-digit or four-digit, but can also have a descriptive part, for example: Bright Red C, Neutral Black C, Red 0331 U.

The labels C and U refer to the abbreviations for coated and uncoated, ie the type of paper on which the paint is applied, and whether they will be glossy (coated) or matte (uncoated).

The use of Pantone (spot) colors is very common in the printing of corporate materials such as business cards, memos, blocks, bags and the like, because in such materials it is necessary to emphasize the corporate identity.

Pantone colors can be combined with CMYK colors, but it is clear that spot colors cannot replace process colors when printing magazines or more demanding graphics that include a larger number of colors and tones.

RGB color system

The RGB color system is used for screen display, whether it is a monitor, TV, tablet or other device. The combination of three colors: Red (red), Green (green) and Blue (blue) achieves a wide range of colors, far greater than that which can be defined by the CMYK color system.

The principle on which the RGB color system is based involves mixing light rays of three colors on a black background. The values ​​are expressed in the light intensity range from 0 to 255. In this way, the lowest RGB value of 0/0/0 indicates black, while the most intense value is 255/255/255 marks for white.

Precisely for this reason, the number of RGB color combinations is higher than that in the CMYK system and therefore it is not possible to print everything “seen on the screen”. Before releasing the material for printing, it is necessary to convert the colors from the RGB system to CMYK to get an approximate idea of ​​the appearance of the material after production.

In addition to these three color systems, there are several other models that are not so significant in our analysis: monochrome (greyscale), RAL, NCS. It is very important to note that colors are to some extent a subjective category, ie that different people experience colors in different ways, but also that there are objective factors that contribute to different display and experience of colors such as various (and / or uncalibrated) monitors. that is, light and other conditions in which color observation is performed.

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