PMS Colors

Custom package printing - What is a PMS color?

A rose by any other name….

….would smell as sweet.  A line from Romeo and Juliet?  Could be, but if you’re talking about full color printing, also known as process printing, four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, black – or in printer speak, “CMYK”), can generate just about every color under the rainbow.  In fact, this is the way most printing is done, from newspapers and magazines to printed brochures and flyers, and even your product packaging! These primary colors are printed in a dot mosaic in just the right proportions to fool the eye into thinking there are more colors present than actually are. Look closely at a printed image next time. If it’s a process printed image, you’ll see the dots! Now that’s sweet!

In simplest terms, what process printing means is that you can use as many colors as you want, as long as they are mixed from the four primary colors (CMYK) on the press. You remember mixing water color paints as a child, you can create a lot of colors this way. But try mixing a metallic color, say gold, from your water color kit- it can’t be done!

Enter PMS colors. PMS (formally known as the Pantone Matching System) colors were developed by Pantone, a printing ink manufacturer. Pantone came up with a standard set of colors, which are all numbered, and the matching ink formulas to recreate that set of colors. Printers just consult a swatch book of these colors and request the color of the ink swatch they want.

PMS colors are custom mixed colors, no four color dots involved! Whereas color in process printing can vary ever so slightly from print run to print run, PMS colors stay true to their original color. The down side is they cost more to print, but for certain colors it’s worth the additional costs.

What do PMS colors offer?

  • Ink colors are quite vibrant, usually much more so than can be achieved with standard four color process.
  • Although process printing can duplicate PMS colors, the color tone ranges from poor to adequate, and the colors are usually quite flat, lacking vibrancy.
  • Special colors, such as metallics (gold, silver, copper, etc.) and neons, can only be achieved with PMS colors.
  • Because PMS colors are mixed according to a universal formula, the colors are the same shade regardless of where they are mixed. You can be guaranteed the color you see in the swatch book is the color you’ll see on your product package.

So, if you want to add a bit of pop to your custom printed packaging, think about adding a PMS color to the mix.


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