I am working on refining our brand guide and color builds. Another graphic designer in our department thinks we should set up all files with PMS spot colors, rather than CMYK, so that we get more accurate colors—even when printing in-house.

But, I don't think this is the best idea. I am trying to make an informed decision with evidence before I go back to her and tell her why we should not do this.

Our large format Canon printer can print accurate PMS color. And our Epson printer can print PMS color when we send through our rip server. But, we do not use the rip for everything because it is more difficult to get the exact positioning we need in the final print out. In addition, we also print some items to a Toshiba copier, which is not set up to print PMS colors.

I am also concerned that using PMS colors is going to be confusing and difficult to keep up with when some items we design will need to be produced at print shops using digital printers, which will need CMYK. We would have to be very diligent about making sure we are using the correct type of color for each situation. Sometimes we switch back and forth between printing a file in-house and then also sending it out to a print company at other times.

I, of course, use PMS colors when sending out art where spot inks will be used for the final output. But, I don't think they should be used as our primary color set up. I think CMYK should be used.

Does anybody have any insight into what might be best?

  • I would use PMS in every situation where a spot color can be specified, and on output, mark the spots as process (Ink Manager etc). If you are in a half-way busy shop (or just smart and lazy), you will be "picking up" artwork and assets. This takes the context out of the equation and unifies the workflow. One quibble: your printer cannot print accurate PMS unless it uses PMS spots. You really just mean it can transform the PMS color into its own color space in a way you find acceptable. The Toshiba issue is a calibration issue. you should be calibrating the copier, not the files.
    – Yorik
    Jun 21, 2016 at 17:13

3 Answers 3


why we should not do this.

I would not say if you should or not. But you probably need to open your options.

A brand guide preferably should be in an "absolute color" mode. A PMS is a good decision if the color matches de desired one. (I strugled a lot of years for a good red on the PMS system, sometimes I gave up for the red 032).

But there are some colors that works better if you always print on the same system, like a m100y100... red again.

A CMYK value is NOT an absolute one. It is totally dependent on the ink types and paper type. This are the two main components on a color profile choice.

A red m100y100 on an non coated paper is diferent color than on a coated paper.

It is a brand manual you can do whatever you need, for example define a PMS color and a CMYK color, and an Hexacrome color, and RGB one.

Some colors like Flags could be defined in Lab* values.

I'm complementing.

Print shops using digital printers, which will need cmyk.

Nop. Normally a digital printer uses RGB files for example in photos (with the respective color profile embeded), because they make their own internal transformation.

On a vector file it is totally better that the value is given in PMS so the printer makes its own choices based on the specific pigments, tonner or ink. If a print shop does not give you a decent color with a file in PMS spot colors, change the print shop or make manual adjustments(1).

External providers is the best reason to use a PMS based system.

(1) Manual adjustments is a case by case scenario. Only in this case you could tweek a cmyk file, but as you can see this could be a mess to control. "The provider X needs a file with less magenta than the provider Y". This is a problem of the provider, not necesary yours.

Complementing 2

A profesional solution is to make profiles for each output.

1) Define your colors as PMS... in this case I will say something more rislky. You can even play with RGB values with a CMYK preview. But all steps need to be covered.

2) Use a claibrating device like color munky calibrate your screen so your soft proofs are ok.

3) Send to your provider a test print (the swaches provided with the color munky software)

3) Use this print and measure it with the color munky. This wil generate a profile for that provider-ink-paper combination.

4) Now send the real print using that profile.

  • thank you. I do have profiles for PMS, RGB, and CMYK, and we have calibrated all screens and printers with Color Munky. My main question is whether we should set up the files printed in-house in CMYK or PMS. For items printed out of house, we have different color builds depending on where it will be printed. thank you.
    – alc
    Jun 22, 2016 at 16:54
  • In-house, do you mean in the office? or you are a print company, in which case, are you one that prints offset or digital prints?
    – Rafael
    Jun 22, 2016 at 16:58
  • we have an epson 3800 inkjet printer, as well as a large format canon printer in our marketing department office.
    – alc
    Jun 23, 2016 at 18:00

Don't use PMS color specs unless you are printing with PMS colors -- actual inks made or licensed by Pantone. Since there is no such thing as a PMS office printer, if you are talking about printing in-house with CMYK inkjet or laser or offset press, I can't imagine any reason to use PMS specs.


Pantone has made a swatch book for this very issue. Too many people will try and print a PMS color with an ink jet printer and are confused why the colors don't match up. I suggest you try and convince your manager to invest in the Pantone Color Bridge swatch collection (coated & uncoated come together) for the office. It shows the PMS swatch with their 4 color process equivalent so there's no headache involved trying to balance the CMYK values.

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