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How often have you encountered a business where the website colours don’t quite match the business cards, the brochures are different to the shop signage … I could keep going but you get the point.

It’s because the wrong colour model was used.

In this post I am going to quickly summarise the 4 main colour models – CMYK, RGB, HEX, PMS (Pantone) and help you understand how they should be used to ensure you get consistent results. With a little bit of knowledge you will be able to communicate better with designers and printers and avoid costly mistakes in your business.

Fundamentals:

  • A colour on screen will look entirely different when printed (and vice versa).
  • RGB and HEX are used for online/screens – they are created using light.
  • CMYK and Pantone are used for printed materials – they are created using ink pigments.
  • Your branding elements (including photos) should be available in both (print and screen) options and used accordingly to ensure consistency.
  • If you don’t have the right software or are confused, a Graphic Designer will be able to assist with conversions or check if your files are correctly set up.

CMYK (4 colour process)

  • Most popular printing method
  • Consists of cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black)
  • 4 colours of ink used in traditional printing
  • Colours are defined in a 0-100% (e.g C=75 M=68 Y=67 K=90)
  • The 4 colours are combined 1 layer at a time over multiple runs to create the desired colour
  • To get a rich black in print (often called True Black) use C=75 M=68 Y=67 K=90 instead of C=0 M=0 Y=0 K=100

RGB

  • Consists of red, green and blue
  • Used to display colours on screens (e.g computers, mobile phones, televisions etc)
  • RGB offers a wider range of colours than capable in CMYK – in some instances you may not be able to achieve a comparable CMYK print.
  • Colours are defined using 0-255 scale (e.g R=48 G=40 B=127)

#HEX (hexadecimal colours / Hex colour codes)

  • Used in web design / development
  • RGB colours are represented in hexadecimal format which browsers can read
  • Hex numbers start with a # and are followed by 6 letters or numbers

Pantone (PMS / Spot Colour)

  • Pantone is a standardised colour matching system
  • It was designed to help designers and printers specify and control colours in printed projects
  • Predominantly used for brand / corporate identities to ensure the logos and main elements are consistent across multiple mediums and printers.
  • Most common referenced colours are from Pantone Solids Colour System
  • Identified by a 3-4 digit number followed by a C, M or U
  • The best (and most accurate) way to choose a Pantone colour is via Pantone charts.
  • Be aware that printing on different materials (fabric, vinyl, paper etc) will give different colour outcomes.