Founded in New Jersey in the 1950s, Pantone has become the industry standard for colors, whether you're a graphic designer, household painter, or fine artist. Although Pantone manufactures paint, fabric, and other goods, the company is best known for its Pantone Matching System (or PMS). This allows designers to coordinate which colors they're using for projects, and have a dedicated reference with specific numbers for every color.
So what is PMS color, and how does it differ from other color systems? Below, we've shared some history and practical information about this fascinating project.
How did PMS Become a Worldwide Standard?
When two advertising execs in New York City hired a chemistry graduate named Lawrence Herbert, the goal was to develop a streamlined set of pigments and inks for the entire agency. Herbert initially went to work creating a consistent color system for a small team, but in doing so, he inadvertently made a product that would grow far beyond its humble roots.
By the early 1960s, Herbert bought the printing assets from the agency and used them to start Pantone. With these assets, he created the Pantone Guides, which have the entire Pantone Matching System printed on small cardboard sheets and organized as a portable deck.
How Does PMS Work?
If you're looking for quality control and consistency in your color choices, the Pantone Matching System is a tremendous tool. It allows manufacturers, printers, and artists to stick to a standardized system, no matter where they're located in the world. These colors include fluorescent, metallic, and other special colors that can't be produced using the CMYK process. Each of these colors has a dedicated number, such as Pantone 300 and Pantone 1955.
PMS vs. CMYK: What's the Difference?
Although many Pantone colors can be produced with CMYK, the two systems are very different. CMYK uses four standardized inks — cyan, magenta, yellow, and black — to print a dizzying variety of colors. In fact, most operations use CMYK for their printed material.
On the other hand, PMS uses 13 different base pigments (as well as black) to print more than 1,100 spot colors. This approach allows for a wider variety of hues, which is why many companies use the Pantone system for branding consistency, and some countries even use the number system to refer to a color on their flag.