What are CMYK, PMS, and RGB?

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What are CMYK, PMS, and RGB?

Knowing your brand colors and how to use them properly is key to maintaining your brand image.

One shade of green can be absolutely, 100% different from another shade of green. And, we all know, the two can definitely look pretty bad side by side if the shades aren’t right. So how do you develop consistency in brand colors?

The best place to start is by understanding CMYK, PMS, and RGB. These three main color systems all work very differently and are used specifically across different mediums. Let’s take a look!

CMYK

CMYK, often called the four-color process, is the most widely used color system in print design. It is composed of the hues Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (Black). During the printing process, the four hues are mixed together in specific amounts to create the desired shade. The absence of all of the colors results in white (or the color of the paper stock), while high amounts of each of the colors results in dark brown or black. CMYK is considered the best choice for full color prints. It is versatile, convenient, and affords a limitless variety of essentially accurate color choices. However, due to inconsistencies in paper stock, ink quantity, and printer quality, it sometimes can be difficult to get a truly exact color match with this method, and very subtle shifts in the color are usually expected.

PMS

PMS, the Pantone Matching System, is also used for print design. This system was designed by Pantone to provide consistency and precision in color design. The Pantone system utilizes pre-mixed colors of select shades to achieve a completely uniform color, every time. This system is great for ensuring an accurate color match on logos or branding materials. However, PMS has the narrowest variety of colors, and due to it’s unique printing process isn’t ideal for printing materials that need more than two or three colors.

RGB

RGB is used solely in digital design on mobile devices, computer monitors and televisions. It uses amounts of Red, Green, and Blue to create digital hues. Unlike the other color systems which are based with ink, the RGB system blends light, taken from the monitor’s light source, to create color. Because this system is based on the amount of light that is let through, high intensities of the RGB hues result in white, while the absence of them is black.

Every color design should have at least corresponding CMYK and RGB colors. If you choose to base your designs around a Pantone color, you’ll need a PMS color and the corresponding CMYK and RGB colors. All these hues will look like codes. For example, the orange that I use for my brand is RGB- 249, 109, 9 CMYK- 0, 56, 96, 2.  There is no corresponding PMS color for this specific shade of orange. However, if you choose a color that had a Pantone hue, you’ll have a third code to add to the list.

Here’s the quick version:

  • CMYK– use CMYK for full color print design. Your business should have a full set of CMYK colors for use on brochures, letterheads, business cards, and other miscellaneous print design.
  • PMS– use PMS for color accuracy on print work that needs no more than three colors (one or two is better). If you choose to use a Pantone color, you’ll need the corresponding color in CMYK and RGB to use for full color print and digital design, respectively.
  • RGB– use RGB for any digital design. You’ll need RGB colors that correspond to your CMYK (and potentially PMS) colors. The RBG hues will be used for your website, social media graphics, and online advertisements.
  • Know your codes- All these colors will look like codes. Keep a record of your color codes and be ready to use them!

Knowing the colors of your business in CMYK, RGB, and PMS (if you choose to use a Pantone color) is a great start at developing and maintaining the consistency of your brand colors across all mediums. What are your colors?

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