What is Pantone and How Does it Work?

pantone chipWhat is Pantone?
Pantone is a standardized color matching system, utilizing the Pantone numbering system for identifying colors. By standardizing the colors, different manufacturers in different locations can all reference a Pantone numbered color, making sure colors match without direct contact with one another. The most commonly referenced colors are in the Pantone solids palette. The Pantone Solid palette consists of 1,114 colors, identified by three or four digit numbers, followed by a C, U, Or M suffix.. Originally designed for the graphics industry, the pantone solids palette is now used by a wide range of industries, and is the most commonly used palette. For example, Pantone 199 Red can be identified as Pantone 199C (C= Coated Paper), Pantone 199U (U= Uncoated Paper) or Pantone 199M (M=Matte Paper).



Other Pantone Palettes
Pantone also has a Process palette, which consists of more than 3,000 color variations digitally created with CMYK process printing. Process printing requires the use of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black ink.Work printed using CMYK is also referred to as 4 Color Process Printing. All colors in this palette start with DS and contain hypenated numbers, from DS-1-1 thru DS- 334-9 and may be followed by a C (coated) or U (uncoated). These guides are only suitable for four-color process printing, and are used to design color build using CMYK, in various combinations.The Pantone Color Bridge can be used to convert Solid Colors into CMYK percentages. Process guides can be found on the 4-Color Process and Color Bridge page.

Pantone also has a Textile palette, which consists of 1,925 Pantone for Fashion and Home colors, identified by two digits, followed by a hyphen, four digits, and then a suffix. They also have a name, as a secondary identifier.The Fashion and Home colors are used by fashion, textile, and apparel designers and manufacturers worldwide. For example Pantone 19-2430 could be identified as Pantone 19-2430 TPX Purple Potion (Printed on Paper) or 19-2430 TCPurple Potion (Dyed on Cotton) .Textile guides and books can be found on the Fashion and Home Textile page.

Pantone also has a Plastics palette, which consists of 735 transparent and 1,005 opaque plastic color chips. The plastics palette is used primarily by industrial designers and manfacturers worldwide to specify colors for molded and fabricated plastics. These chips are conveniently arranged in three ring binders, and each chip has three levels of thickness, to display different levels of transparency. Plastic selectors are offered in either opaque (Q) or transparent (T) . An example of an opaque color would be Q200-2-4. The transparent colors begin with a T. Plastic chip books can be found on the Plastic Chips page.

Finally, Pantone has the Goe Palette, which contains 2,058 chromatically-arranged solid colors, and should not be confused with the Pantone Solids Palette. This system is relatively new. .

Pantone developed the first color matching system in 1963, which consisted of a large number of small cardboard sheets, printed on one side with a series of related color swatches and then bound into a small "fan deck". This system was referred to as the Pantone Matching System, or the PMS system. It's goal was to allow designers to 'color match' specific colors when a design enters production. This system was widely adopted by graphic designers and reproduction and printing houses and is still used today to specify colors for a wide range of industries.

How Does Pantone Work?

The Pantone Solid Colors Palette, with over 1100 unique, numbered colors, was originally devised to help printers and designers specify and control colors for print projects. This is the most widely used Pantone palette, with colors sometimes referred to as 'PMS' (for Pantone Matching System) or 'spot colors', and is used in the graphics, print, and publishing, industries.

pantone guide

How Pantone works

A graphic designer is designing an identity package. She looks through a Pantone solid color formula guide (based upon the Pantone Matching System) until she finds a red color she likes.

pantone 199 chip

She really likes Pantone 199 Red. It's perfect for the client, and will be used as the primary color for the logo and any identity work that may follow

designers log0



She designs the logo, and specifies Pantone 199 red as the primary color for the logo and business cards. The client ok's the proofs, and the designer sends the job along to the printer, including a Pantone color chip for exact color reference.

job ticket



The printer looks up the color the designer specified (Pantone 199 Red) in the Pantone formula guide, and specifies that color on the job ticket.

ink mixing formula


When the job goes to the press, the press operator finds that color (Pantone 199 Red) in their Pantone guide. There is a mixing formula in the guide (circled) for the operator to follow.

printer mixes pantone 199 red ink


The press operator takes 12 oz. of Pantone Rubine Red ink, and 4 oz. of Pantone Yellow ink, and mixes them together. The resulting ink is Pantone 199 Red.

pressman running press


Using the ink they just mixed, their Pantone formula guide, and the Pantone color chip as a color standard, the press operator will print the business cards.


finished product matches


With the Pantone matching system, color consistency is guaranteed, from design to client, to pre press, through the pressroom, to final delivery.
It's that simple.

More info about Pantone solid formula guides and chips


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