Pantone or process?

CMYK or Pantone? Unsure of which colour format you need for the job? Let’s take a look to explain the differences and where they are all needed.


As explained in our Colour Support Guide, CMYK is the standard colour palette for commercial print documents. It is also the term for the four inks used; cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black.) At most print companies, the ink is typically added in the order designated by the abbreviation. Black’s abbreviation is K for “key” because the other colours are aligned, or keyed, with the black key plate.

When printing in CMYK the colours are separated into the four colours and recreated using tints made up of small dots which are applied at different angles to the four colour process. The separated colour images are then transferred onto a different plate for each colour of the process and printed one after the other to produce the full image.


The PMS (Pantone Matching System) or Spot Colour method uses pre-set colour formulas in order to create a broad spectrum of ink colours and the key difference from the CMYK system is that it brings standardisation to the table and guarantees the same colour to be produced and match if printed in different locations. It is worth noting that Pantone colour, like CMYK will appear different if printed onto different paper types and will be visibly darker if printed onto an uncoated paper compared to a Gloss or Silk.

Pros Of Using Pantone Colours

Spot Colour Pantone printing is ideal for keeping consistency with branding; using Pantone Matched printing is the perfect way to establish a brand like Starbucks green or Cadbury’s purple. There are some colours such as bright Orange which simply cannot be created in CMYK along with fluorescent and metallic colours.

Cons Of Using Pantone Colours

Pantone Colour Matching requires jobs to be printed lithographically to incorporate the spot colour(s), this is not as cost effective for smaller runs due to the set-up costs. Extra production costs also some from needing to ‘wash up’ and change the colours in the press, especially when more than one Pantone colour is being used. As CMYK uses the same base colours as standard, this is far more cost effective.