The Difference Between CMYK and PMS



The complexity involved in color and how big of a difference various color profiles can make on your print project is something you'll want to pay attention to. Is there a specific shade of orange or blue that is included in your logo? Depending on who created your logo, your color scheme may include CMYK colors, PMS colors, or both!

CMYK Colors

The term CMYK refers to the four ink colors that make up the schema: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, which is considered the key color. This particular model mixes together the three primary colors and includes black to produce darker shades. To create an image, printers define four separate plates that make up a full image. One plate is used for each of the four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) and is designed to lay down a very specific amount of pigment on the image. While this may sound like a simple way to print, it has worked effectively for hundreds of years.

leaf circles cyan+magenta+yellow+black, and below that 4-layer leaf green

PMS Colors

PMS (or Pantone Matching System) colors are slightly different than CMYK colors because they are mixed before they are applied to a surface. The pure spot color, or PMS color, is a mixed ink that allows for a wider range of reproduced colors than the CMYK spectrum. Each PMS color contains a unique hue, which can be matched by a number that is associated with the Pantone Matching System of swatches. PMS inks are not laid in a dot pattern but can be screened in a halftone to produce a variety of shades.

Pantone 362 C

Viewing Colors

Viewing either PMS or CMYK colors on a computer screen is a challenge due to lighting changes and the display variation. Fortunately, Pantone LLC provides a printed color chart for PMS colors that allows anyone to see the exact color that will be printed on your project. A unique set of numbers allows printers and customers to communicate effectively about what can be a challenging and variable subject: color. What looks like magenta to one person could easily be described as a red-purple by someone else -- making it tough to describe specific colors without the common language available with PMS standards.

Color Chart

Ready to get started on your next printing project? Our color professionals are experts at matching current color schemes or helping you find just the right shade to communicate your brand. Contact us today to learn more and get started on your next project!

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