Color Matching for Beginners

With St. Patrick’s Day in our rearview mirror, it’s the perfect time to be discussing color. And in what field is color a major concern? Print! Or as I like to call it, marketing’s sister.

Okay, I’ve never called it that. However, it IS hard to be involved with marketing and not at least brush up against print. And if you aren’t a print-centric company, all the jargon can get a little overwhelming. As your friendly neighborhood graphic designer I can’t teach you everything you need to know, but I can make you less scared of at least one aspect: color.

Or, to be more specific, Pantone colors. If you’ve worked at all in print, you’ll know Pantone is kind of a big deal when it comes to ink formulas. I bet you’ve heard the term “PMS” or “PMS color” uttered at least once. (And if, like me, you work with print projects on a daily basis, you can start to feel like your life revolves around those three little letters.) So to those not in the know, let’s start with the basics: PMS stands for Pantone Matching System. Described in Pantone’s own words, it’s “the definitive international reference for selecting, specifying, matching and controlling ink colors”. Basically? If you want a project printed consistently no matter what printer you’re working with, you specify Pantone colors.

The company offers swatch books and accessories for pretty much every color need you can imagine, but if printing supplies really aren’t something you’re looking to invest in, they also offer plenty of free resources on their website. One of my favorites for beginners is the Pantone color finder:

All you have to do is type in a color name and it shows you what it looks like. Obviously monitor settings vary, so this isn’t a high-level proofing tool, but if you’re helping a client print a shamrock-themed promo and they specify it’s being printed one color PMS 527 C, you’ll know it’s not a mistake when the project comes back purple.

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