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Currently I am working on a brand identity. I have to decide which color to use but I can't understand how the systems work. I read previous posts here and also searched the internet but still I have questions.

So I have an RGB color that I like and a CMYK that is vary dull and not similar at all. Should I:

  1. Find a Pantone color and set this as my color, and believe that RGB and CMYK will appear the same.

  2. Keep the RGB I like and find a CMYK and a Pantone I like and set these to colors (it doesn't matter that they are not listed as analogous if the eyes see them as analogous).

  3. Choose a Pantone, then an RGB and CMYK depending how the eye sees it and not depending on the numbers.

  4. Keep the RGB and change it into CMYK no matter how it looks.

In short: what are the steps for choosing a color (company uses both printed and digital material)?

  • 3
    Also one thing to note while CMYK looks duller than RGB its looks especially dull on a monitor because you are comparing the monitors range. But even white paper is duller than on a monitor, the net effect is that on paper the colors look relatively brighter (human senses are relative). So you should appraise your colors on the medium that the colors are used on, and in conditions thay are used in (CMYK looks much brigher and differently colored in direct sunlight, as do different monitors). Otherwise your lying to yourself. Oh and have a calibrated monitor. – joojaa Oct 5 '16 at 9:50
  • Hello, is monitor's build in calibration enough or do i have to find a specific program? – Anna Aio Oct 5 '16 at 13:00
  • No, if its not done by you or for you, in your work environment, in your light conditions with a hardware colorimeter than its not worth anything. And it needs to be done every so often biweekly to monthly atleast. – joojaa Oct 5 '16 at 13:02
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In reality, it's up to you. Do whatever works and looks best, no matter what that is—don't blindly rely on numbers or automatic conversions.

Generally what you want is to find colors that match as closely as possible. Pantone colors are specifically designed for faithfully reproducing single colors, so choosing a Pantone color and sticking to that is a good way to go. Pantone itself gives conversions to CMYK and RGB of its colors that you can use, they're normally pretty spot on but there's nothing stopping you from coming up with your own values.

Keep in mind that RGB has a bigger gamut than CMYK* so there are colors you simply cannot reproduce going from RGB to CMYK (as you have seen). Pantone similarly has many colors that you simply cannot achieve in CMYK. There is nothing stopping you from using those colors and choosing as similar a CMYK color as you can, but be aware that there will be noticeable differences depending on the medium, which obviously isn't ideal. Or you can pick colors that are comfortably within the gamut of RGB, CMYK and Pantone and have consistent colors, but you are then limiting your choices (the easiest way to do that is to start with CMYK).

As with many things, it comes down to compromise. At one extreme you have the perfect color that you unfortunately cannot faithfully reproduce, and at the other extreme you have consistent colors that are dull are boring. Hopefully there is a happy medium.

But, as I said before—it's all up to you (Not only is it up to you but it is specifically your job to make that decision. Just make sure you can back up that decision with solid reasoning).


* Comparison of some RGB and CMYK colour gamuts on a CIE 1931 xy chromaticity diagram. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CIE1931xy_blank.svg

enter image description here

  • I am sorry again. Should i do whatever i like depending how i see colours on my monitor, on a pantone sample book, or on a random printer? – Anna Aio Oct 5 '16 at 13:12
  • Well testing them in the ways that they will be used is what you really want to do, but yes all of the above. Pantone books are good, but do test prints with you CMYK color and compare to the RGB color on screen too (don't worry too much about the CMYK on screen—that's not what it's meant for). Just test as much as you can and choose the colors that work best – Cai Oct 5 '16 at 13:23
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CMYK can produce less colors than RGB, which is why many "equivalent" colors can seem dull or washed out. Pantone can produce brighter colors since they use specially-mixed inks, however it is often more expensive to use spot (Pantone) colors for printed materials.

In an ideal world you'd have a color that works well in all 3 systems, but that is not always possible.

So what to do? Of the options you have, I'd discard 1 and 4, as you won't get good results when printing. What I'd do is find a CMYK color you like (because CMYK is the hardest to get right), find the RGB/Pantone equivalents, going by eye (with a well calibrated monitor and pantone swatches).

  • Not just cmyk but any printed color system. There are some colors that you can transmit as light that is impossible to reproduce on paper with ink and reflected light (unless you do drastic things like etching microscopic grooves like butterfly wings). There was an artist (forgot his name) who wanted to use pure blue (rgb(0,0,255)) in his painting so he cut holes in the painting and illuminated the room behind the painting with blue light. – slebetman Oct 5 '16 at 10:25
  • Thank you for your inspiring comment about the artist. :) – Anna Aio Feb 9 '17 at 10:19
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Great answers above, but I want to also call out that the first step in color selection is to start with the company's target audience. Color psychology, etc.

You may have already done this, but I'm adding it because I didn't see it mentioned.

  • Could you please add more detail to this answer? As it is, it's not very helpful and is better suited as a comment. What is color psychology? What exactly do you mean by etc? – Zach Saucier Oct 7 '16 at 19:30
  • By "color psychology" I meant using the relationships between specific colors and emotional reactions, as defined in a marketing environment, with a targeted audience. helpscout.net/blog/psychology-of-color By "etc." I meant also choosing colors based on how they work together and contrast, to enhance readability and appropriateness for branding. addthis.com/blog/2015/08/18/…. I didn't want to assume the OP didn't know these, but since they're important, I wanted to make sure they were included. ;) – DocPixel Oct 9 '16 at 1:46
  • Wow Love to learn. I will definitely check your links. Thank you a lot – Anna Aio Feb 9 '17 at 10:20

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