Know Your Colors: RGB, CMYK, Pantone

When it comes to graphic design projects, particularly printed materials, designers rely on three color standards: RGB, CMYK, and Pantone. Clients and business owners usually encounter these terms in discussions with designers. But what do they exactly mean? How are they different from each other? And how can they impact a business’ marketing and branding?


Let’s get to know more about RGB, CMYK, and Pantone and know which ones to work with when picking the right color depending on the nature of the design project.




An abbreviation for red, green, and blue, RGB is an additive color model in which red, green, and blue – the primary colors – light are mixed in various ways to produce a broad range of colors.


The RGB additives are used when working on a design project digitally, as colors appear differently on the computer monitor than they will on paper.  It is also important to note that computer display screens are like snowflakes – no two display screens will show colors the same, which should be taken into consideration when designing and printing.


Basically, digital screens map color with a combination of RGB, producing different shades through different light values of pixels. Since RGB incorporates light to combine colors for digital viewing, make sure to avoid using this color model when printing, as the colors will appear totally different.




After working with RGB tones on let’s say, Photoshop, projects for printing should have the tones changed into CMYK. The abbreviation stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (key), the four ink colors in color printing. In color printing, the colors contain mixtures of dots in CMYK; and opposite to the RGB additives, CMYK is a subtractive color model that reduces light reflected on white paper.


Most printers, consumer or commercial, use CMYK inks in printing texts and graphics. CMYK works by masking colors on a lighter background. And since colors appear to be more vivid on-screen, CMYK produces lighter hues through the lightest shades set on a tangible surface individually, manifested by the dots of color, and then padded over one another. The padded dots then collectively appear like a solid image.



A photo posted by PANTONE (@pantone) on


The Pantone Matching System (PMS), or colloquially Pantone, is a standardized color reproduction system. Since RGB and CMYK should be used in different respective purposes, and colors on the computer monitor appear very different from the printed version, it is more ideal for designers to use Pantone colors as the reference point. Then, when the design project is to be uploaded online or to be printed, the Pantone shades are converted to either RGB or CMYK, respectively.


With standardized colors, the Pantone system guarantees that each Pantone color has a consistent color match. When it comes to color printing, the Pantone system works through a subset of Pantone colors that can be reproduced using CMYK. Design projects are printed on five or six color-presses, applying the CMYK colors, plus one or two Pantone spot colors for color matching.


The Pantone Matching System allows for preserving consistency and can reproduce tones and graphics through a standardized guideline, making it the baseline for every design project. Furthermore, the challenge of computer monitors always displaying identical colors differently is solved by Pantone; just choose a Pantone color, or a set of colors, to be incorporated into your brand. Pantone colors are identified by their allocated number; so no matter how they appear on the screen and on print, you know that this is the same color used as long as the color matching system is used correctly.


Colors in Branding and Marketing

Consistency in design, including style and colors, is important in creating an identity. Consistency in branding makes recognition and recall easier. Even if you are using the same logo or letterhead in all marketing strategies, both digital and print, oversight on the colors used can happen. That’s why it is important that we know the basics of the color models and the best way to use them.


Talk to a printing professional and graphic and web design experts like us in MicroCreatives to learn more about the impact of colors on your business. A better understanding of color standards and a good collaboration with reliable creative service providers will help your company achieve a successful brand establishment and marketing strategy.