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How long do Pantone plastic chips last?

Pantone plastic chips are small plastic cards or chips that contain different Pantone colors for design purposes. They allow designers to view and compare physical Pantone colors when working on projects that require specific colors. But how long do these handy plastic chips last before fading or otherwise deteriorating?

What are Pantone plastic chips?

Pantone plastic chips, also called Pantone color cards or Pantone swatch books, are thin plastic cards that show the different colors in the Pantone Matching System (PMS). This standardized color reproduction system allows designers to specify and match colors exactly so that a color rendered in one medium looks the same when reproduced in another medium.

The Pantone Matching System is made up of several hundred colors, each with an assigned number and name. Pantone sells these colors in various plastic chip collections, including coated, uncoated, pastels, neons, and metallics. Each chip displays the Pantone color number and name.

Designers use Pantone chips to view true physical representations of the Pantone colors for their projects. Having the plastic chips allows designers to make accurate color choices and ensure color consistency across different materials and mediums.

How are Pantone plastic chips made?

Pantone plastic chips are made by mixing pigments into liquid plastic resin to achieve the precise Pantone colors. The colored plastic resin is then poured onto sheets and cured in ovens before being cut into the small swatch size chips.

Each plastic chip has the Pantone color number and name printed on it. The chips are designed to be thin enough that light passes through, allowing the designer to view the true color.

Pantone makes the chips from durable plastic that is resistant to fading and other deterioration. However, the plastic chips can eventually experience fading or damage with repeated use and exposure over time.

Typical lifespan of Pantone plastic chips

With proper care and limited light exposure, Pantone plastic color chips typically last:

  • 5-10 years for coated chips
  • 3-5 years for uncoated chips
  • 2-3 years for pastel chips

However, lifespan can vary depending on frequency of use and storage conditions. Chips that are used often and left out on a desk will fade more quickly than those used occasionally and stored in a closed case.

Factors that affect lifespan

There are several factors that can affect how long Pantone plastic color chips last before showing signs of wear:

Light exposure

Exposure to light, especially sunlight and UV rays, will cause fading and color deterioration over time. Storing chips in dark, closed cases when not in use helps prolong life.


Heat can also accelerate color fading. Avoid leaving chips in hot environments like vehicles on hot days.

Handling and use

Chips that are handled frequently and used often will experience wear sooner. The color coating can get scratched or start to peel with repeated rubbing and stacking.

Chemical exposure

Chemicals like alcohol, solvents, and cleaners can damage the plastic and cause colors to fade. Avoid contact with these substances.


Humidity and moisture in the air can cause subtle color distortion over time, especially for uncoated chips.

Signs of wear

Here are some signs that Pantone plastic chips may be reaching the end of their lifespan:

  • Colors appear faded or less vivid
  • Scratches, scuffs, peeling on chip surface
  • Chips appear hazy or opaque instead of transparent
  • Colors look yellowed or shifted
  • Ink numbers/names rubbing off chips

When you notice these types of deterioration, it’s a good indication that the chips should be replaced.

Maximizing lifespan

To maximize the lifespan of your Pantone plastic color chips:

  • Store chips in a closed case or dark drawer when not in use
  • Avoid direct sun exposure and heat
  • Handle gently to prevent scratching
  • Clean with microfiber cloth only, no chemicals
  • Purchase coated chips which resist fading longer
  • Replace pastel chips more frequently as needed

Replacing worn chips

When your Pantone plastic chips start to show deterioration, it’s important to replace them. Using worn, faded chips as reference will lead to inaccurate color matching and reproduction.

Always check for any color updates or revisions whenever replacing chips. Pantone periodically updates and adds new colors to their lineups. Make sure to get the latest versions when replacing old chips.

Retailers like Amazon and office supply stores typically carry Pantone plastic color books and boxed chip sets. You can also order replacements directly from Pantone. Consider investing in longer-lasting coated chips.

Using Pantone color libraries

As an alternative to physical plastic chips, designers can now access digital Pantone color libraries. Software programs like Adobe Creative Cloud include the complete Pantone Matching System colors. This allows designers to select, display, and specify Pantone colors digitally for their projects.

While not a direct replacement for the tactile, visual reference of physical chips, digital libraries can be a convenient supplementary option. They can also help you match fading physical chips to the true original Pantone colors.


Pantone plastic color chips are susceptible to fading and wear over time with use. Proper storage and handling can help prolong their lifespan. But in general, coated chips last around 5-10 years, uncoated 3-5 years, and pastels 2-3 years. Checking chips periodically for signs of deterioration, limiting light exposure, and replacing faded chips helps ensure you are referencing accurate Pantone colors for color-critical design work.