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What is a Pantone®, and when is a Pantone® not a Pantone®? (Part 1)


So that is hopefully the longest and most confusing title for a blog post I will ever write. Can you say it 5 times fast?

For all the complexity of that title, Pantone® is a company that is headquartered in New Jersey that makes inks. Pantone® has become a generic term for SPOT colors. These are premixed inks that are not one of the process colors.

Two color printing has been and will continue to be one of the staples of printing and design. Pantone® is one of many companies that make premixed inks. In fact, odds are your printer does not buy their Pantone® inks from the company Pantone® but another ink supplier that has a license to create ink to Pantone®’s color specifications.

So now that we know what a Pantone® is, how do we know when a Pantone® isn’t a Pantone®?

On the left here is part of the Swatch Palette’s list in Illustrator. You can see there are many Pantone® swatch lists to choose from. So which is the correct swatch palette to use? What does C or CVC or U mean after the number? Look below to see which swatches are what.

  • Metallic- These are metallic inks. These inks on coated stocks do look like almost like metal on paper, but without the expense of foil stamping. They tend to deaden on uncoated stocks. Uses just a number designation (PMS 873 C)
  • Pastel- Exactly what it sounds like, pastel colors. Pastels are very difficult to hold steady using process builds, so these can come in handy. Uses just a number designation (PMS 9040 C)
  • Process- These do not designate a premixed ink. When you use a process swatch- i.e. DS 1-6, you are calling for a specific color, but not a specific ink. Anything that starts with DS is a color that should be in the process gamut, but every printer and press will have their own specific builds. Always starts with ‘DS’. (DS 1-6)
  • Solid to Process- Solid to process is a swatch book the converts specific Pantone® inks to a process build of the same color. There is often a difference between the Pantone® color and the process build. Uses the same numbering system as solid swatches- it actually indicates the same color, but create using process colors. Uses the PC suffix- “Process Simulation”. (PMS 201 PC)
  • Solid- The solid book is the most commonly used in the United States for printing. This book indicates the pre-mixed inks that do not fall into any of the above categories. Typically, these are the swatches you would use to design your project. Uses a variety of suffixes to indicated simulated look when printed. (PMS 281 C, PMS 281 U)

Everyone one of these swatch books can be designated as a SPOT color, even if they do not indicate a separate, pre-mixed ink. There are also the swatch books for several other color matching systems in Illustrator. Toyo is the Japanese color standard, while FOCOLTONE and HKS are both European standards.

Check out part 2 tommorrow, to find out about those nifty suffixes!

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