Or are they really? You might see a dozen long-stemmed burgundy roses, where I see maroon. Or a cherry coloured sports car, where I see candy apple red.

And what’s up with violets anyway? Aren’t they actually purple?

Colour is subjective, after all. And when terms like PMS, CMYK, RGB and HEX start getting tossed around, colour can get confusing too. So here’s a quick run-down on the most common colour formats and when they are used.

Print Colour Formats

When you want something printed – say your business card, a brochure, a pop-up display or even a T-shirt – ink is used. PMS and CMYK are the print industry’s two most common colour formats.

PMS: Do you see what I see?

PMS stands for the Pantone Matching System, which is exactly that: a patented, standardized system that allows you to exactly “colour match” colours. PMS is recognized worldwide.

PMS is used for offset printing only. It is a great choice for stationery, and when only one or two precise colours are required.

When you use PMS:

  • There is a wide choice of precisely blended solid ink colours available.
  • You get exactly the colour you expect.
  • The colour chosen can be printed consistently because different manufacturers in different locations can all refer to the Pantone system.
  • PMS colours can be more intense, and can include metallics, fluorescents and pastels that might not be available using CMYK.

CMYK: Layer it on!

CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black), the four colours used in off-set and digital printing. Where PMS colours are solid, CMYK colours are created by layering different quantities of cyan, magenta, yelllow and black. CMYK offers a wide range of colours, and is the most common option for printing full-colour products such as postcards, brochures and posters.

When you use CMYK:

  • Many colours can be reproduced efficiently, using just four inks.
  • Some, but not all, Pantone colours can be reproduced using CMYK.
  • It’s easy to create gradients, blends, photos and multi-coloured images.
  • There may be some degree of variation.

Digital Colour Formats

Unlike print images, digitally produced images are generated by light, not ink.

RGB: Digital dynamo!

RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue. This colour format is used for a variety of onscreen/digital displays (such as TVs, computer monitors, cellphones, tablets, etc.). RGB colours are created by combining red, green and blue wavelengths of the light spectrum.
RGB is the industry standard for digital colour images, but is not used in printing.

When you use RGB:

  • Because of the multitude of combinations of red, green and blue wavelengths possible, RGB can produce a broad array of colours.
  • RGB can produce very bright, vivid colours that cannot be recreated through CMYK or PMS (because screens are illuminated).
  • If you do want to print an RGB image, it can be converted to CMYK format before being sent to the printer to ensure that you get the results you want.

HEX: What the heck?

HEX is mainly used by Web designers and developers. Like RGB, HEX is used onscreen only (not in print) using the same combinations of red, green and blue from the RGB spectrum. It is basically a shorthand combination of letters and numbers used to represent RGB colours.

LMNOP!? Count on CP!

So what does this all mean? All colours are not created equal. A colour you see printed out (using ink) will not necessarily be the same as a colour you see on-screen (using light). And your office printer won’t necessarily print the same colour as a professional printer’s will. Colour can even be affected by the finish of the paper you print on (coated, uncoated, matte…more on that in an upcoming blog!) or the light that you look at it in (as anyone who has ever painted a room can attest to).

What’s important to us is that the colour you want is exactly the colour you’ll get no matter what your project, print or online, whether it’s burgundy (or maroon) roses or blue (or purple) violets. So if you have any colour questions, ask CP Business Solutions. We’ll always see what you mean!