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What’s a Pantone?

Pantone is a standardized color matching system used primarily in the printing and design industries. It allows designers, brands, and manufacturers to precisely match colors across materials and mediums. But what exactly is Pantone, and why is it so important for consistent color reproduction?

A Brief History of Pantone

Pantone was founded in 1962 by Lawrence Herbert, who wanted to create a universal color matching system. At the time, the graphic arts industry used conflicting color standards which made it difficult to match colors exactly from one material to another. Herbert built the first Pantone Matching System guide in 1963, which contained 10 sections of solid colors along with their formulation.

This first guide was a game-changer for the industry. It allowed any printer or designer to identify and match a Pantone color by mixing inks or dyes to achieve the same hue and saturation. Over the years, Pantone expanded its libraries and guides, licensing digital color standards and providing more tools for design professionals.

Today, Pantone is considered the authority on commercial color reproduction and inspiration. Its guides and libraries are used around the globe by graphic designers, brands, product designers, and more. The company is now owned by X-Rite and continues to update and expand its color matching system annually.

What is the Pantone Matching System?

The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is a standardized color reproduction system used in printing and packaging. It consists of a set of different color swatch books containing hundreds or thousands of different hues, tints, and shades.

Each color in the Pantone system is identified by a unique number and name combination. For example, Pantone 123C is a bright yellow, while Pantone 7565C is a medium sky blue. This allows designers and printers to accurately identify and communicate colors simply by specifying the Pantone number and type.

There are different Pantone guides for different materials and processes:

  • Pantone Formula Guides – for ink mixing formulas
  • Pantone Solid Chips books – paper chip samples
  • Pantone GoeGuides – cotton, synthetic, polyester guides
  • Pantone PLUS Series – CMYK 4-color process guides

By standardizing colors with Pantone numbers, any printer or designer can precisely match a color without having to physically compare side-by-side. This helps maintain color consistency across different jobs, materials, and locations.

Why is Pantone Important for Branding & Design?

Using Pantone colors has several key benefits for branding, design, and production:

  • Consistent color reproduction – The Pantone system ensures colors are replicated accurately regardless of material or process. This allows a brand’s colors to be recognized instantly.
  • Facilitates communication – Designers and clients can specify Pantone numbers to clearly identify colors needed for a project. This eliminates ambiguity or confusion over vague color descriptions.
  • Quality control – Designers and printers can match Pantone swatches or simulate formulas to proof and verify colors before production. This ensures colors are achieved as envisioned.
  • Streamlines workflow – Since Pantone numbers are universal, they make specifying and organizing color choices simple across different departments and locations.
  • Supports color trends – Pantone releases new color collections annually as well as specialized palettes. Brands can align their products and designs with these color forecasts.

For these reasons, Pantone has become integral to the design and production process for graphic designers, brands, agencies, sign makers, fabricators, printers and more. Specifying Pantone values in files ensures colors translate properly at each stage of production.

Pantone Color Matching Guides

Pantone produces several different guides and systems for design professionals. Here are some of the most popular:

Pantone Formula Guide

The Formula Guide displays thousands of solid Pantone colors with their ink mixing formulas. It provides the precise combinations of 14 different base pigments to mix to achieve each Pantone color. This allows ink mixers and printers to accurately reproduce any color in the Pantone Matching System.

Pantone Solid Chips

The Solid Chips book contains removable paper chip samples of over 1,000 solid Pantone colors. Designers can view true physical representations of the colors for more accurate visualization and specification. The paper stock in each guide is engineered to represent how inks will appear on coated (C), uncoated (U) or matte (M) paper.

Pantone Color Bridge Guides

The Color Bridge guides provide everything needed for graphic design and printing. They display Pantone colors as they would look when converted to CMYK process inks. This allows designers to see how Pantone colors will change when reproduced in 4-color process printing. The guides also include the solid Pantone swatches, and related digital color values like CMYK, RGB, Hexachrome, Hexadecimal.

Pantone Goe Guides

Goe Guides are used for textile and fashion design. They contain Pantone colors on cotton, polyester, nylon, and other fabric types. Goe guides are available as removable color chips or in fan format for portability. Pantone also offers dye formulas for major fiber types to match Pantone textile colors.

Pantone SkinTone Guide

This specialized guide contains 110 human skin tones for product designers and other creative professionals. The guide reflects the diversity of human skin colors and provides precise Pantone values to represent realistic skin tones in products and designs.

Pantone Color of the Year

Each year, Pantone announces the Pantone Color of the Year. This highlighted color is meant to reflect current trends and influences in culture and design. Pantone carefully researches and analyzes color influences across industries like entertainment, art, travel, technology, and socioeconomics to choose the color.

The Pantone Color of the Year often influences product development and purchasing decisions in multiple industries, especially fashion and home decor. Brands will launch products and designs in the Color of the Year to stay relevant to current trends.

Here are some recent Colors of the Year:

Year Pantone Color of the Year
2023 Viva Magenta 18-1750
2022 Very Peri 17-3938
2021 Ultimate Gray 17-5104 and Illuminating 13-0647
2020 Classic Blue 19-4052
2019 Living Coral 16-1546

Brands and companies leverage the Color of the Year as an opportunity to refresh products, engage consumers, and align with current color trends. It provides guidance and inspiration for creative professionals and manufacturers across many visual industries.

Using Pantone Colors Digitally

While Pantone started as a system for printing, it has expanded to be used digitally as well. Pantone colors can be displayed on web, video, and digital designs if proper color profiles are set up. Here are some tips for working with Pantone colors digitally:

  • Use Pantone Color Bridge guides to find correlated digital color values like RGB or Hex numbers.
  • Reference the Pantone Connect digital color library to convert PMS values to digital codes.
  • Download Pantone Color Manager software to install color profiles on computers and calibrate monitors.
  • Use web development tools like Sass or LESS to easily output Hex or RGB values in stylesheets based on defined Pantone variables.
  • Test colors across different devices and monitors to preview how they will look in the intended digital medium.

While digital displays can’t fully replicate the vibrancy or color accuracy of print, designers can still approximate the look of Pantone colors digitally. It may take some testing and adjustment between devices to find the optimal balance.

Pantone Products and Tools

In addition to its world-famous guides and libraries, Pantone offers other helpful products for design and production:

Pantone Color Manager

This software allows you to install accurate color profiles on computers and mobile devices. It calibrates monitors to display Pantone colors as they will look in final printed form. This avoids guesswork and unexpected shifts in hue, value or saturation.

Pantone ColorIQ

ColorIQ is a mobile app that uses your phone camera to scan real-world objects and identify the closest matching Pantone Color. This provides instant color inspiration from surroundings.

Pantone Connect

Connect is an online color management system for digital designers. It allows you to create digital palettes, convert Pantone values for web or print, and share color libraries across teams.

Pantone Chips and Swatchcards

Pantone produces removable color chips and card decks for designers to reference and share physical color samples. These are available for paper, plastic, textiles, skin tones and more.

Pantone Licensing

The Pantone name and color system have become so iconic that the company has partnered with brands to allow licensed products featuring Pantone colors and style. Some examples include:

  • Pantone Universe line with products like bags, mugs, watches, and more
  • PART ONE paint collection with Behr paints matched to Pantone colors
  • Pantone hotels designed with commissioned artwork and interiors inspired by Pantone palettes
  • Pantone coffee collection with whole beans and brews designed for “creative fuel”

These licensed lifestyle products allow consumers to integrate the recognizable Pantone style into everyday items. The collaborations further cement Pantone’s reputation as the premier color standard and creative style brand.


Pantone provides a universal language of color that fuels creativity and connectivity across global visual industries. From its innovative start in the 1960s, Pantone has grown to become integral to design, branding, fabrication, and manufacturing today. The color matching system empowers vivid storytelling while streamlining workflows.

Beyond production, Pantone has become a cultural icon representing the psychology, artistry, and science behind color. The annual Color of the Year forecast has become a much-anticipated moment that drives innovation and inspires creativity. For both practical precision and pure inspiration, Pantone remains the color authority.