Last Updated on September 15, 2023
It’s hard to imagine that just 95 years ago, many of us watched TV in black-and-white. Some of the most beloved shows such as The Twilight Zone, The Donna Reed Show, and The Addams Family, were all produced in monochrome.
Today, we embrace color in every aspect of our lives. Makeup artists and costume designers utilize color theory to create stunning looks on and off-screen. Architects and interior decorators consider color psychology when selecting shades for specific spaces. Graphic designers and artists collaborate with clients worldwide, incorporating vibrant hues into logos, branding, and print marketing.
What may appear as a “good eye for color” is rooted in science and understanding universal color standards. Before exploring the differences between Pantone®, CMYK, and RGB models, let’s first recognize the significance of learning about color.
The Importance of Color
Why do we see color?
What we perceive as red, blue, or yellow, is in fact the brain’s response to different wavelengths of light. For example: a red apple only appears red because it absorbs all the other colors and reflects red.
Warm colors such as red, orange, and yellow have longer wavelengths and are associated with energy and vibrancy. On the other hand, cool colors like blue, green, and violet have shorter wavelengths and are often perceived as calming and soothing.
Other factors that affect color include: hue, referring to the primary wavelength of light that defines a color; saturation, describing the intensity or purity of a color, indicating how vivid or diluted it appears; and brightness, relating to the perceived lightness or darkness of a color, determining its overall luminosity.
Different pigments interact with each other to produce diverse visual effects and evoke a wide range of emotions. This explains why a large percentage of people cite blue as their favorite color – it’s something we associate with serenity, calmness, and peace.
The effect of color finds extensive application in various fields, including art, design, psychology, marketing, and more. Businesses and individuals can use it to convey meaning, enhance visual appeal, and effectively communicate messages.
However, the shades we see on screen (i.e., on the computer or TV) can vastly differ once it’s printed or projected elsewhere. Hence, it’s important to have universal standards to achieve the colors we truly want. This is vital for businesses and brands, because a fuchsia logo isn’t the same as a magenta one – and will likely confuse customers.
What Is RGB
The RGB (Red-Green-Blue) color model is a significant and well-known system used to measure and describe color in digital marketing. This prominent method is based on three primary colors – red, green, and blue – which are combined to generate all the other pigments.
Most digital images, including those displayed on computer screens, smartphones, and those captured by digital cameras, rely on this primary color system.
Whether you’re reading this article on an older CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitor or a modern LED flat screen, the device still utilizes a grid of pixels composed of Red, Green, and Blue elements. When all the pixels are illuminated at their maximum intensity, your screen will appear white.
Conversely, when all the pixels are turned off, the screen will be black. Any hue between these extremes is produced by illuminating pixels with varying intensities of red, green, and blue.
This makes the RGB color model inaccurate for printing.
What Is CMYK
One important thing to note between RGB and CMYK: RGB is primarily used for digital projects, while CMYK is mostly used printing. Printers at home or even high-end color laser printers will have CMYK ink colors. The CMYK color model stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (key means black).
Cyan, magenta, yellow are made after blending RGB hues. The term ‘key’ for black was used because in four-color printing, the CMY plates are precisely aligned (or ‘keyed’) with the black plate’s key. The printer uses a mixture of these four colors to produce your print.
Look closely at printed images and you’ll see layered little dots or half-toning on top of one another. From afar, these layers of dotted hues give the impression of solid colors.
This method though, can be inaccurate when producing the precise shade you see on your screen. This can happen even when printing from the same document. Expect about 5-10% tonal difference between what is displayed on the screen and the printed output. It’s not going to be as vibrant – unless you can convert the CMYK colors to Pantone.
What Is Pantone
The Pantone color system has transformed print marketing by introducing a standardized approach to color. Through the Pantone Color Matching System, manufacturers worldwide can confidently refer to the same precise color, even without direct contact, ensuring consistent color matching across platforms and products.
Pantone currently offers an extensive range of more than 1,800 distinct colors.
Each Pantone color is assigned a unique number for identification purposes. For instance, PMS 191 represents a specific shade of pink composed of 93.73% red, 25.88% green, and 43.53% blue. The Color of the Year in 2023 is Viva Magenta, which is comprised of 74.51% red, 20.39% green, and 33.33% blue. Pantone numbers may be accompanied by letters like M, C, or U, denoting matte, coated, or uncoated finishes.
The key advantage of Pantone lies in its ability to ensure color consistency in both print and digital media. While largely utilized in marketing, Pantone color identification has found practical applications in numerous industries, including fashion, beauty, and real estate.
So the next time you want a specific shade of red for your small business logo or party flyer, use the Pantone Color Matching System. It should give you the exact hue you’re looking for, whether onscreen or on paper.