Graphics - Solid Color Information

Spot Color Information

The year was 1963. Hundreds of ink manufacturers were producing ink for thousands of printers. Ink manufacturers provided swatches of their inks that did not match or “translate” from manufacturer to manufacturer. Corporations produced color standard guidelines for the two or three colors associated with their brands. But a universal color reference library to identify and communicate color along the product development workflow from designer - manufacturer - marketer - printer - retailer -consumer, did not exist. The PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM and PANTONE FORMULA GUIDES were created to fill this void.

Because the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM concept was simple to understand and the PANTONE FORMULA GUIDE was easy-to-use, consumer acceptance was immediate. By publishing a color reference library printed under tight quality standards, identifying each color by a unique number and linking each color to a precise ink mixing formula, everyone involved in the development process could accurately communicate color. And everyone understood the value in being able to specify a color as “PANTONE 485” and having that shade of red look the same from design concept to finished product and from product packaging to product advertising.

The original FORMULA GUIDE was called the Printers’ Edition and had 500 colors for offset printers. Though the current FORMULA GUIDE now includes 1,114 colors, the concept of the first FORMULA GUIDE hasn’t changed much since its inception nearly half a century ago.

From these humble beginnings, PANTONE Color Libraries have been developed for the graphic arts, textile, fashion & home and plastic industries. Today, specifications for thousands of PANTONE Colors are built into design software and production equipment. Pantone, Inc. publishes a variety of products for color communication from printed guides to dyed textiles. All to provide a set of common languages recognized worldwide as international standards for the communication of color.

Understanding Color Spaces and the Pantone Matching System

Color spaces define boundaries within the visible color spectrum. Think of a color space as a perimeter fence: all colors inside the fence are represented in that color space; all colors outside the fence are not. The area inside the fence is referred to as the color space's color gamut.

CIE 1931: In 1931, the Commission Internationale De l'Éclairage (CIE), the international standards body that deals with all aspects of light (and hence color), created a mathematical model that uses synthetic, imaginary primaries that represent our eye’s individual cone responses. Through mathematical constructs rather than physical realities, the CIE primaries model behavior that is very real.

The horseshoe-shaped diagram at the right shows the CIE 1931 chromaticity diagram, a mathematical illustration of color space. The spectrum locus, as it is sometimes called, shows the boundaries of visual color space. In other words, the area inside this locus represents every color that the normal human eye can see. Note that the three dimensions of color are flattened into a single two-dimensional plane which ignores the lightness of a color, and therefore, this diagram should not be equated with the appearance of a color.

RGB: RGB, or red, green and blue, are the additive primaries that are the basic elements of white light. By mixing amounts of RGB, other colors are made. Because they are spectrally pure primaries, RGB provides a very wide range of colors. The downside of the RGB color space is that most of the colors in this gamut cannot be displayed on standard computer monitors and cannot be printed.

sRGB: The sRGB, or “standard” RGB, color space was developed by Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard as a device-independent color space that is compatible with most computer monitors and other hardware. Its features include a D65 (6500 K) white point, a monitor gamma of 2.2 and various other standards for viewing. Its intent is to provide uniform viewing conditions across various monitors resulting in consistent visual results.

CMYK: CMYK (the color space enclosed by the magenta line in the diagram at the right) is a subtractive color model used in color printing. This color model is based on mixing pigments of C=Cyan, M=Magenta, Y=Yellow and K=Key (black) to mix other colors.

CMYK is in some respects the opposite of RGB color space, as it is based on using colored ink to progressively obscure an already white background. The cyan, magenta and yellow colors may be thought of as alternative primary colors to red, green and blue. In theory, equal quantities of CMY should produce black, but the use of the fourth “color” black may be more reliable.

The Pantone Matching System

In contrast to the commonly recognized color spaces, the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM is a color communication system, with each color referred to as a PANTONE Spot Color (shown as black dots on the diagram above). The PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM is not considered a color space but a color system. Although one could connect the outermost dots in the diagram, the result is not a gamut since there are a finite number of colors that are included in the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM.

The colors in the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM have been selected to encompass as much of the visual color space as our ink set allows. The chromaticity diagram shows that there are PANTONE Spot Colors spanning much of the CMYK and sRGB color spaces. However, when a CMYK or sRGB representation is not accurate enough, the use of spot colors ensures the perfect color every time.

The high level of quality control in creating Pantone’s publications means that they are a reliable source for color communication. Ideally, the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM is used in all stages of the design and production of printed materials ensuring that the final output will meet your client’s expectations.

14 PANTONE Basic Colors

The 14 PANTONE Basic Colors found on pages 1.1 and 1.2 of the FORMULA GUIDE, plus PANTONE Transparent White, are the building blocks of the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM. Precise mixtures of these PANTONE Basic Colors, provided in parts and percentages, allow the ink mixer to accurately create the 1,114 unique spot colors in the current palette. In the development of a printed project, the mixed colors are compared to the color swatches printed by Pantone in the FORMULA GUIDE or CHIPS book for a quality check of color match.

PANTONE Yellow 012
PANTONE Orange 021
PANTONE Blue 072
PANTONE Reflex Blue
PANTONE Process Blue
PANTONE Rubine Red
PANTONE Rhodamine Red
Plus PANTONE Transparent White

Without consistently accurate PANTONE Basic Colors, the mixed spot color will vary. To ensure quality, Pantone tests every ink manufacturer’s version of the PANTONE Basic Colors annually. Only when an ink manufacturer’s version of the PANTONE Basic Colors matches the control version of the PANTONE Basic Colors at Pantone, do we approve them as a PANTONE Licensed Printing Ink Manufacturer.

The Center-line Concept

The FORMULA GUIDE is printed with seven colors per page and uses a “centerline” concept. The center-line color (usually, but not always, the color in the middle of the page) is a mixture of one or more of the 14 PANTONE Basic Colors. Lighter colors are printed using the same ratio of PANTONE Basic Colors as the center-line color plus increasing amounts of PANTONE Transparent White. Darker colors are printed using the same ratio of PANTONE Basic Colors as the center-line color plus increasing amounts of PANTONE Black.

Using page 11 C from the PANTONE FORMULA GUIDE/solid coated guide as an example illustrates how the center-line concept works. PANTONE 165 C is the center-line, and is a mixture of 50% PANTONE Yellow and 50% PANTONE Warm Red. PANTONE 164 C, PANTONE 163 C and PANTONE 162 C get progressively lighter by adding increasing amounts of PANTONE Transparent White. PANTONE 166 C, PANTONE 167 C and PANTONE 168 C get progressively darker by adding increasing amounts of PANTONE Black.

Most PANTONE Colors, such as PANTONE 165 C, have the center-line color in the middle of the page. However, as colors were added, exceptions occurred. For example, on page 26.5 C, the PANTONE Basic Color Violet is the center-line color but occupies position 5, just below the center of the page. The important thing to remember is the concept of adding PANTONE Transparent White or PANTONE Black to change the appearance of a center-line color, wherever the center-line color appears on the page.

Why Pantone Recommends Replacing Your PANTONE FORMULA GUIDE Annually

The formula for a particular PANTONE Color never changes; the formula for PANTONE 165 C is the same today as it was in 1963. But, the look of the color will vary depending on the paper or substrate on which a color is printed.

The PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM is a transparent ink system, and the color, coating, UV-components and other characteristics of the substrate being printed will affect the appearance of the printed color. As the same color ink can change dramatically in appearance when printed on different paper stocks, Pantone publishes PANTONE FORMULA GUIDES and CHIPS books on three different paper substrates: C = coated paper, U = uncoated paper and M = matte paper to provide a visual reference of the affect different papers have on color. (NOTE: You may also be familiar with suffixes CV, CVC and CVU which stood for Computer Video, Computer Video Coated and Computer Video Uncoated. These suffixes were used in computer programs prior to 2000 and are no longer used.)

Though our color formulas haven’t changed over the years, our paper specifications have changed. Because today’s marketers prefer brighter, whiter papers, Pantone changed the paper used in our guides in 2003.

Finally, because paper yellows with age and ink fades, the appearance of a print-ed color will change over time. (NOTE: For specifications of the papers currently used in our FORMULA GUIDES and CHIPS books see our STAY UP-TO-DATE/product & technical information brochure or visit

To ensure that the end result of a project meets the expectations of everyone involved in the process, Pantone recommends the following:

1. Replace your PANTONE FORMULA GUIDES annually, and make sure that everyone involved in the process is using current PANTONE Products.

2. Always specify colors using the PANTONE FORMULA GUIDE that corresponds most closely to the printed substrate: coated, uncoated or matte.

3. Since the substrate used in the project will almost certainly differ from the substrate used in PANTONE FORMULA GUIDES, always attach a PANTONE Color Chip to all copies of your project. The PANTONE Color Chip has been referred to as “the world’s smallest contract” and is the visual quality reference that directs the final printed material.

Applications Across Industries
Pantone’s Color History

Buy PANTONE FORMULA GUIDE coated, uncoated, matte

four–guide set

CartID: -1 RemoteIP: PageID : 20459