What are Pantone Colors?

Some screen printers offer to mix Pantone colors as part of their service. Why do printers mix custom colors? Why not use ink straight from the bucket? Let’s look at a brief history of Pantones, why they’re important, and how to use them in your shop. 

A pantone color match in a mixing bucket with the swatch next to it

Photo by Night Owls Print

A BRIEF HISTORY OF PANTONES

Pantone literally translates to “all colors.” In 1962, a company called Pantone created and standardized a color mixing system. The Pantone Color Matching System (PMS) expands on existing color reproduction systems like the CMYK process. The Pantone system uses a specific mixture of pigments to create spot colors, shown in the Pantone books. The Pantone Matching System (PMS) includes 1,867 colors, all made from variations of 13 base pigments. 

Before that, every printer had their own color standards. If a customer wanted to get a specific color of yellow printed and then repeat it at another shop, there was no guarantee it would match. With the introduction of the Pantone System, you could just look it up and be right on target.

RELATED: CMYK VS. SPOT COLOR VS. SIMULATED PROCESS PRINTING

WHY DO PANTONES MATTER?

Pantone colors make communication easy. Let's say a customer walks in and wants their logo to match Coca Cola Red (PMS 199c). The customer needs it to be that exact color and will not accept the different red shades you have as stock colors. You could mix the ink by eye, through trial and error. You might waste a lot of time and ink trying to recreate the color. 

RELATED: HOW TO MAKE MONEY WITH YOUR PANTONE COLOR MATCHING SYSTEM

Many customers will have a specific color in mind. If you’re able to mix the color, you’ll be able to widen your potential customer base and ensure that your customers will be happy with the end result. 

A pantone mixing system with supplies and a squeegee

Plastisol and water-based inks can be mixed into PMS colors. Photo by Reclaim Print Co. 

HOW DO I MIX PANTONE COLORS?

Let’s stay on the Coca-Cola Red example. To mix PMS 199c correctly, you’ll need a few things. First, you need a Pantone Coated Book to use as your reference. Pantone books have three categories: coated, uncoated, and matte. Screen printers use the “coated” version of the book. When you look at the coated and uncoated Pantone books side-by-side, the printed color is the same. The print surface is not. While the color printed on the books is the same, it looks different when printed on coated paper vs. uncoated paper. Pantone’s coated book is printed on glossy paper, matching the final product of a screen printed image. 

You’ll also need an ink mixing system that has software to produce the formulas for mixing colors. All mixing systems (whether you’re looking at water-based or plastisol) use the PMS color system. Each color is named using a series of numbers, followed by the letter “c,” meaning “coated.” Search 199c in the software and it’ll give you a formula. The formula shows the amount of each color needed to make the red. So, you’re going to need a scale, containers to mix the ink in, and a spatula. Make sure the color you mixed and the Pantone color are the same (and that the customer is happy) before printing. 

You can choose to mix what's needed for the job, or you can mix enough to keep it on the shelf for repeat orders. The process is quick. Best of all, it is 100% repeatable.

PMS colors lined up on a shelf

Save your PMS colors for future print runs. Photo by Fingers Duke.

Pantone Matching System colors have found their way into every part of life, from branding to government legislation describing the colors of flags. Screen printers around the world use Pantone colors to determine exactly what a client is looking for and repeat it every time. It’s worth it to offer color-matching because you’ll be able to expand your clientele. 

REFERENCES: 

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