Pantone Colour Systems – For Graphic Design

by Chris Booth



You’ve probably heard the word PMS, which stands for the Pantone Matching System, a proprietary numbering system for colors used in graphic design. Did you know the Pantone Matching System includes both solid and process colors?


Pantone Graphics Direct



 Solid colors (sometimes call spot colors) are the truest representation of color intent in graphic arts. Solid color printing, also known as spot printing or offset printing, is the process by which a single color is formulated and then applied through print.

Process colors utilize a limited number of inks, such as cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK), applied in different ratios to create a variety of colors. Process colors are generally used when color accuracy or range is less critical.



We print our colors on the most commonly used, globally available paper stocks. Our coated guide is #1 grade 100lb gloss text stock (148 g/m2) and the uncoated guide is premium grade 80lb text stock (118 g/m2).

PMS colors marked with a C mean that the color is printed on coated paper for a glossy finish, as you would see in a magazine. This is desirable for sharp and complex designs, as the ink stays on top of the paper, preventing bleeding. Likewise, a U indicates uncoated paper, which has a more porous finish, common on letterhead. Uncoated paper is generally more absorbent of ink than coated, reducing sharpness.

Understanding the difference between spot and process is incredibly important in setting color expectations from design intention to production and when transitioning from a computer screen to the printing press. Solid color printing, also known as spot or offset, uses ink mixed to a precise formulation, resulting in more precise colors and allowing for bold, vibrant colors. Alternatively, process printing is a method of printing colors using Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK). In Extended Gamut printing, another form of process printing, Orange, Green, and Violet are added to the CMYK process to expand the color range.

Handling, light, humidity, and paper aging will cause colors to become inaccurate and you could be missing the latest market and trend driven colors. How many colors are you missing? Learn more here.




Pantone Color Systems – For Textiles




Our Fashion, Home + Interiors (FHI) color system centers on the Pantone Swatch Card. In fact, swatch cards are the standard referenced by every other FHI product. Made on double-layered fabric to the most exacting color specifications in the industry, the Pantone Swatch Card has been formulated for color fastness and color constancy. All FHI Swatch Cards are supported by digital spectral data, so you can be confident your final product will match your vision. Swatch cards are available for all our Cotton, Nylon, and Polyester colors. Each material has unique properties, and therefore a uniquely achievable range of colors.




In today’s complex and challenging marketplace, color is often that catalyst that sparks the sale, defines the space, and creates the mood. We select colors for the FHI system based on three important and distinct criteria. First, our global team of color trend forecasters look at the movement of color trends to ensure your palettes are fresh, modern, and relevant. Of course, we also understand the importance of core colors and the integral role they play in building your seasonal color stories. Therefore, we look at the color needs of the industries we serve and those we would like to better impact to ensure a comprehensive set of core and trend shades. Lastly, we only select colors that are easily achievable and reproducible, for greater usability and efficiency.

Pantone’s Fashion, Home + Interiors’ numbering system enables precise accuracy on a global scale. Each color has a unique location in the System’s color space, which allows the space to be precisely defined. A six-digit number assigned to each color defines that location:Each pair of digits has a specific meaning: The first pair (16) refers to the lightness or darkness of the color. The second pair (15) specifies the hue – yellow, red, blue, green. The third pair of numbers (46) describes the chroma level of the color. Using the six-digit PANTONE Fashion, Home + Interiors Color Number, any color can be selected and communicated anywhere in the world.

All of the colors contained in our FHI products are color references. The Pantone Swatch Card is the definitive color standard, produced within a 0.5 Delta E tolerance to ensure color consistency. The swatch card is double-layered and un-backed on a non-optically brightened paper card then housed in a sealed, protected pouch to protect the fabric from light and humidity. Only with the Swatch Card can you ensure that your internal teams and production partners understand exact color intent.

To ensure the closest visual match, we recommend using the material format that is closest to your end use application. We recommend our textile cotton products (TCX) for all fabric applications. Because each material takes color differently, the same color in cotton, plastic, and on lacquered paper can vary slightly.




Munsell Color Systems

For Industrial, Scientific and Government (Munsell) 


How do people perceive subtle differences in color and, more importantly, how do they know they’re looking at the exact same color at any given time or place? These questions obsessed Albert H. Munsell, a man who in 1905 came to define color – literally. His enduring color theory, notation method, and namesake company’s invaluable products, live on through X-Rite Pantone today.


Munsell realized he could define all colors precisely with three distinct attributes: Hue (basic color), Chroma (color intensity) and Value (lightness). He plotted these attributes in a 3-D model that was mostly spherical, but not quite. 

What distinguished Munsell’s Color-Order System is that Munsell tested his color definition theory vigorously against what humans could actually see. If a color could exist, but people couldn’t see it, it had no place in a practical model.

Munsell’s insights have been used to define colors for companies, industries and governments across the globe. His system is still used to compare solids and liquids in hundreds of practical applications, from matching colors of soil samples to comparing the look of different beers – even to establishing uniform standards of golden french fries for the USDA! And, of course, even with all its technical uses, Munsell’s Color System still has wide applications to the worlds of fashion and design, ensuring people everywhere have more meaningful conversations about colour up and down the production process



The Munsell Color Order System is a way to define any visible color with a specific notational format that references the color’s Hue, Value, and Chroma. (See How Does Munsell Color Notation Work? FAQ Below). This same notation can be used with Munsell Color charts to aid in accurate color communication. By contrast, Pantone’s Color Systems define a large collection of proprietary colors, with specific data and formulations, communicated through our easy-to-use books and guides. Created specifically for a variety of popular design and communication uses, Pantone Colors are chosen for their market relevance, their reproducibility across platforms, and their usefulness in a wide range of design applications across industries the world over. Pantone has two Color Systems, the Pantone Matching System (PMS), used primarily in Graphic Design and Packaging, and the Fashion, Home + Interiors (FHI) System, used primarily in textiles, hard and soft home goods, metallics, pigments, and coatings. Most Pantone Colors can be used as standards to allow accurate color communication with people along every step of the creative and production process.

Every color can be represented using three distinct attributes: Hue (basic color), Value (lightness), and Chroma (color intensity). These numbers are written with the convention: HV/C. For example, a medium bright-red color might be written 5R 6/14, where 5R is the red Hue, 6 is its Value (on a scale of 0-10, where 0 is pure black and 10 is pure white) and 14 is the Chroma (where lower numbers are considered “weak” and higher numbers are “strong”, “vivid”, or “highly saturated”). When smaller distinctions are needed, decimals are used to further denote various attributes.

Because Munsell Color Notation is a universal way to describe any visible color, Munsell products using the notation system have multiple uses. They are particularly common in specific Industrial, Scientific, and Governmental applications where they’ve been used historically. For industry, Munsell has electrical and cable wire color charts to ensure color coding is within strict tolerances. Munsell also provides charts for calibrating color-sensitive equipment and devices designed to measure color. For scientific, environmental, and archeological uses, Munsell has color charts to compare soil samples, plant tissue samples, rock samples, and even bead samples (to determine a bead’s likely place of origin). For governmental applications, Munsell has charts for USDA french fry color standards along with other food standards – even the approved colors of certain flags. Finally, for educational purposes, Munsell offers various color learning kits, models, and visual acuity tests to determine a person’s true color perception.

The Farnsworth Munsell 100 Hue Test lets you evaluate how well you and your employees discern important color differences – and where you may have deficiencies or color weakness. An industry standard for over 60 years, the test uses a series of 85 color reference caps that must be arranged in incremental hue order. There’s also special scoring software that lets you assess a person’s visual acuity for effective color evaluation and communication. Having the right people in the right jobs is essential to any business and this simple test ensures your best people are where they need to be when it comes to evaluating color.

Even though Munsell charts are made for use in the field under tough conditions, that doesn’t mean they won’t fade and lose their accuracy over time. It’s also important to keep up with new governmental or industrial standards, as these can change over time as well. We recommend changing your Munsell governmental and industrial standard charts every two years, and other Munsell color references every two to four years. Always remember to store your color samples carefully in a cool, dark place.

Munsell custom solutions are provided through the Pantone Color Institute (PCI) to help companies meet all their specialized color needs. We create custom colors for brands and products as unique as the brands and products themselves. We also set tolerances to define acceptable limits for color deviations during production and create durable color standards for use in harsher working environments. Our experts can further assist with standards for achieving special appearances including fluorescents, textures, pearlescents, and metallics.


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