PMS color misinformation

There seems to be a major misconception of PMS colors in digital printing by many clients. This misconception is bolstered by advertising and marketing from major companies, including Pantone Matching System itself.

The misconception is this: (According to Herbert’s 1963 Goal) A formulation of colors that will mix on any press and always look the same.

Though anyone with any experience in printing will tell you, 4 color process can almost never actually hit the Pantone color. Logic also dictates that if all presses could hit the PMS colors, we wouldn’t have needed PMS colors in the first place.

Every press prints differently as determined by several factors:

  1. paper brightness
  2. humidity
  3. age of paper
  4. software calculations of colors
  5. each digital press has different color strengths and weaknesses

For a 4 color printed, a PMS color is a target. If I am asked to match to a previous print, we shut down the press for at least half the day. Therefore, using PMS becomes incredibly expensive.

So why am I saying this?

  1. Because customer expectations of color accuracy are becoming more and more unrealistic.
  2. Because PMS and Adobe exaggerate the accuracy in al their literature.

Pick your PMS color(s). Assign it. Get a press proof to see how close your PMS colors match. Imo that is the ONLY way to get an accurate representation of the PMS colors as they print.

The most common misconception, at least in my industry is that CMYK inks can hit Pantone colors.
They can’t. That’s what the Bridge is for for conventional printing.
I can hit about 80% of them in wide format because we have extended gamuts to our inks. Conventional print does not.

What Pantone colors do represent are spot color printing on the exact paper that Pantone uses. Other paper? Your color may vary, then it’s up to the pressman or the ink formulator to fix it or not. The pantone chips are what the specific formula in the formula guide represent, using Pantone mixing inks. The colors are indeed reproducible if those formulas are followed.

If your presses are G7 or ISO you can expect the same degree of color match within a specific Delta E, but you won’t hit all the Pantone colors in a Pantone book.

You know all this. Why are you presenting pantone as matchable on a 4-color press?

That’s not what it is meant to be used for. No one is misrepresenting the match system. Pantone has always said their system is a spot color system and the books are a representation of how their ink mix will look on coated or uncoated stock and that your mileage may vary depending on your stock.

However, there is a huge misunderstanding of it out there on the intertoobs and in the industry about how they are to be used, and there are definitely hugely inflated customer expectations regarding color match, not only in inks, but also in paints.

Pantone ink, the color you see on the Coated and Uncoated chip, is the same mix formula. They are not two different ink mixes. The only difference is the stock it is printed on. I cannot tell you how many files I get with both coated and uncoated colors in them and the designer expects to match them individually. Our profiles are built to coated colors (at least here in the US) so I have to chart or spec match and swap those uncoated colors. Costs you money to have me do that.


yeah, there is absolutely a lack of knowledge on color matching / color profiling… and its seemingly getting worse as time goes on.

There is a company I sometimes work with that is essentially a print broker and they don’t even understand it - complaining to me about how their print vendor can’t hit a customer’s PMS in CMYK lol

When I get college graduates coming to work who have never used Pantone colors…let alone cracked open a book or fandeck, there is something seriously wrong with this profession.

I really appreciate the feedback Driver and you always have good info. I hope to keep this post going because it is so widely misunderstood and mischaracterized. A place like this should be leading or at least be reliable with PMS info because they’re becoming more and more common.

I guess my biggest issue is that everyone who isn’t an artist or printer is telling business owners “PMS can do this for you.” <— period. Well, that is simply not true. What they really mean is a pre-press operator, designer, and pressman will stop everything they are doing to match your color as close as the machine can.

What PMS does is give the customer false confidence in their color choices, but it’s ridiculous to believe that CMYK can print PMS colors because PMS colors are mixed from 18 primary PMS colors - none of which are CMY or K.

Back in the day when it was all flexographic (or other non digital method) people would pay for plates. They’d go to press checks on long runs. When I submitted an order for 7 million catalogs at a time, you bet your ass I was at the print house for press checks. These days people balk over a $75 press proof that will show them exactly what their art will look like.

Everyone is in a hurry. They want it cheep, fast and good. Well…

It’s astonishing to me that color can be so important that we spend roughly $500 in man hours to match, yet a $75 proof off an industrial press - meaning about 9’ of waste paper just to print 1 label proof - isn’t worth it. Yet because people are told “yes this will match perfectly” from authoritative sources, they have unrealistic expectations.

Sometimes you just have to say, “It just doesn’t work like that.”

What PMS IS good for imo is, as stated earlier, a target. If you have a client in say, Malaysia, you can both open your PMS books and talk about color and be (literally) on the same page.

Reproduction is a different animal altogether and people should talk to experts, not salesmen.

You’re all over the map with the “problem.”
When I have more time, I’ll be back.

Just to point out what you likely already know, not everything can or should be printed four-color process even if it were possible to precisely match the colors using CMYK.

For example a 2- or 3-color job might be cheaper to print using spot colors than four-color process. This was especially true years ago, when using four inks on a four-color press was an expensive luxury. There are also many other situations where CMYK is no substitute for Pantone (or another spot color), like screen printing or engraving.

Well, maybe — at least if all the other variables are the same, like the paper stock onto which something will be printed, the printing process being used and the quality of the printing company being used. A Pantone color can shift its appearance rather dramatically from a hard coated paper to a more absorbent uncoated stock. Similarly, an opaque screen printed ink can appear quite different from a transparent offset printed ink.

You are very right on both points. I have nothing to add to the first.

The second, what I mean is at the conceptual level. When one is planning their work, they can talk to someone who has a Pantone book anywhere in the world, and as long as the books haven’t been sitting out in the sun and are fairly recent, they can communicate better.

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That’s just ADD. The info is a little scatterbrained because I’m not spending a lot of time on each thing. And yes, it is pretty easy to point out exceptions to each statement made (as Just-B pointed out a couple specifics also).

The point is only that we, as print professionals, need to educate clients against the “sales speak”.

Those clients being the DESIGNERS, not their clients.
Therein lies the crux of the problem. So-called designers not knowing their craft, and far too many web-bloggists who have no idea what they are talking about. Salesmen are salesmen.* Anyone that doesn’t know that, deserves what they get.

We’re just a voice in the wilderness.

Me? I just do my best on color, being that PITA that calls a designer asking for branding standards rather than CMYK files. I absolutely cherish the customer compliments when they tell me our stuff looks so much better than things they got elsewhere.:sunglasses:

*Edit: There are really good salesmen/women out there that absolutely know their stuff and are honest about their capabilities. They are like sea glass. Find them and stay with them. The ones that don’t know what-from-what will out themselves fairly quickly. The thing with this profession is a tyro designer no longer has any place to learn to tell the good from the bad. They haven’t been taught the color skills, which vary by output method, each re-inventing the wheel as they go.

Yeah, you know what you’re doing and I know that too. Sometimes when I make posts, they head off into tangents due to the increasing levels of detail that a complete answer requires. Often the explanations about the exceptions probably confuse the much simpler answer that could have been given and would have been accurate in 98+ percent of cases anyway.

For example, if someone asked, is it OK build a final print layout in Photoshop. The easy answer would be “NO”. The longer answer would be, “Not usually, but…”

Then again, that’s what follow-up posts are for. They can fill in the details instead of jamming it all into one post that few people have the patience to read through.

Thanks Just-B, I get the same advice at work. I am very aware of my inability to be concise.

I guess my “thing” is that if someone understands why or how something happens, they will work on a solution and learn, as opposed to just getting paint-by-numbers solution to their present problem.

I need to stop trying to teach and learn to simply help more.

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