Consistent Color Across Different Media

Think of some well-known brands. Which ones come to mind when I say red? How about brown? Are there any in orange? When we see them, we know them, whether they’re printed using the Pantone Matching System (PMS) or 4-color process (CMYK), or if they’re reproduced on a screen in RGB. We recognize not just the color, but the shade of that color, in any medium where it is used. How do designers, web developers and printers do that?

To begin with, computer monitors vary in their color interpretation, based on their age, model, and individual user settings. And, a good monitor can represent many colors that basic 4-color printing cannot.

Then there’s the inkjet or laserjet printer in your office. Color printers vary widely based on types of inks, number of ink colors, settings, and the paper used. The same document will look different on different printers. It will even look different when you change your print settings.

Professionally printed colors are the easiest to match consistently from one job to the next, and from one printing house to another. Using PMS colors as a benchmark for color matching, a printing house can closely match these colors using the CMYK equivalent provided by the designer. PMS colors may also be used individually as the only color, printed as a 2- or 3-color job, or, if the budget has room, as an addition to the 4-color process, adding the extra dimension that recognizably brands the piece.

So let’s check in with the design team, looking for colors that evoke a mood and making sure they work across all media. They may start assigning PMS colors because PMS is one of a few systems recognized worldwide for color consistency. They choose different groupings of PMS colors as options to reflect a brand’s image.

Then – and this is what separates the great designers from the good ones – they anticipate how those colors may shift when reproduced in RGB or CMYK. Working with a high quality monitor and printer, they adjust the PMS color combinations to reproduce well in any color space. It’s a time consuming process, but it’s the difference between consistent, recognizable colors and a giant range of shades.

The process of refining a brand’s colors can take weeks or even months. In the end, the client gets brand consistency, necessary for recognition in any medium. And when someone says, “What brand is red?” you know what they’re talking about.

Read part 1 of blog here!

Read part 2 of blog here!

Read part 3 of blog here!