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As per this question, it has been brought up in comments that methods to specify colors for brand guidelines are moving from PMS to other techniques (ColorCert, spectral data...).

How do these approaches differ from PMS and how would one implement them in a brand style guide?

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Major brands have been moving away from using Pantone colours as a method of defining their visual brand identity for quite some time.

The reason for this is that brands want (and need) absolute consistency of colour across marketing platforms, packaging formats, POS, etc. It has been shown that even small, hard to notice variations in colour reproduction can have a measurable impact on sales.

Using a Pantone reference alone fails to fulfil this requirement for various reasons. Pantone books are not printed on the same substrate as all of the required formats and they are not even all the same colour! This makes them a difficult (some would say impossible) target for manufactures. That said, they perform a valuable role as a starting point for selecting and defining colour.

Once the starting point is defined, major brands then move into a process of print trials and proof verification. The results of that process are then fed back into the design process.

For example: consider a fizzy drink that comes in red packaging - Pantone 200 is a nice dark red. You would then ask the manufactures of the cans, bottle labels, bottle caps, multipacks, POS, etc, etc to run a print trial to get their best match to Pantone 200. None of them will hit it exactly. You then take the furthest away of the colours and supply that as a sample to all the other manufacturers and you go again. (If it is important that the brand colour be reproduced out of CMYK then this will often be the governor). You now (probably) have a much closer grouping. Another iteration or two and you will have a consensus of a red that can be achieved by everyone, consistently. You then define and distribute the specification of this colour as "standard fizzy drink red" and everybody matches to that, knowing that it is achievable. Along with this, you would output digital proofs, based on press fingerprints, to verify that they match the final print. All of these trials are signed off by the brand manager (or similar). The Pantone 200 swatch that was the original inspiration is now confined to history.

The colour that is included in the brand style guide is now "standard fizzy drink red" and the definition of how to reproduce it may include various colour definitions, such as Lab, RGB, CMYK, etc. It may also include information regarding specific ink suppliers and/or substrate manufacturers that were part of the trial process and therefore can provide proven results. Colour data (i.e. CXF) files and/or print profiles may also be distributed alongside the style guide.

There would then need to be a process of colour measurement and control applied to the production of the packaging, etc. This might include press passes or samples being supplied to brand managers, for instance. All of these supplied samples would need to adhere to an agreed tolerance, usually measured with a photo spectrometer, and excessive variation would be a cause for concern, discussion and potential contract cancellation.


As the length of this answer might imply, this is a HUGE subject, an expensive process and (for some people) a full time job.

This is not within the scope (or budget) of small brands and companies and is therefore only a consideration for major brands. It is however, a worthy consideration of designers who contribute to (or aspire to contribute to) the visual brand identities of major global brands.

  • My first thought (which you sort of hit on at the end) is how this applies to me, who is not designing for a fizzy drink but rather the local dentist office or plumbing company. – Scribblemacher Jun 12 '18 at 15:17
  • The short answer is it doesn’t. You can apply similar principles, such as keeping a master printed sample and supplying that to anyone who produces anything else so that they have something to match to. However, the colour of the plumbers logo on his van not exactly matching logo on his business cards is unlikely to effect how much money he makes. – Westside Jun 12 '18 at 15:31
  • @Scribblemacher It might matter to you. See if the plumbers are known for their green overall then you might want to match your logo to that green ;) Then you have the exact same problem. But then the reverse may be as true. Using a pantone color may also be too much to the plumber as they would probably never print with a PMS color so why bother with that either? Anyway in my philosophy you match what user needs but as technically well as you can since that is in fact your job. Not because your client asked but because it should be no extra effort to you. – joojaa Jun 12 '18 at 17:49
  • @joojaa I think in a way for many small businesses, PMS are a leftover of the time when printing on a two-color press was less expensive. Then it would have made sense for the plumber to have their Pantone defined but now with digital printing, not so much! – Emilie Jun 14 '18 at 21:03

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