Pantone vs Process Colors

Much like you would use the primary colors (Red, Yellow & Blue) to make colors when you’re painting a picture… process colors, or CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black), are the primary printer inks that are combined to make a majority of printable colors. These colors are the universal printer ink colors, and are used world wide on all different kinds of digital printers and 4-color presses.

When a piece is printed on a digital printer using CMYK the colors aren’t physically MIXED together, they are laid on the paper in tiny dots and are visually mixed to give the illusion of different colors and shades.

In order to specify a CMYK color in any Adobe Creative Suite program, locate your Tools Bar (most likely on the left side of your screen). If you do not see it, simply go to Window and select ‘Tools’.


The overlapping boxes near the bottom of the Tools Bar is your selected colors. In my example, White is my fill color and black is my outline. So if I were to draw a box, the inside of the box would be white, and the outline would be black.


Anywho, if you double-click one of your boxes it will bring up the Color Picker. This box lets you choose the HSB, RGB, hexidecimal colors (the #), (all of which are mostly used for web)and your CMYK(which is obviously for print). If you know your exact CMYK color settings you can manually type them in, or you can choose a color by moving the small round color picker and it will tell you the CMYK percentage.


Pantone is a system of colors where each color is given a designated number (PMS #). PMS (Pantone Matching System) is the world-wide standard for matching colors. Although, some colors have specific names, such as Reflex Blue or Warm Red. Most Pantone colors are not made with CMYK, but are made by mixing inks using a specific formula. Because they are not made using CMYK, Pantones are used mostly on the 1 and 2 color presses. They can be used on the 4-color if you have four Pantones that are being used, but most of the time they are on the 1 and 2-color presses.

An advantage of using pantone colors is the color is consistent on every print… whereas on a digital printer, using CMYK, colors can change slightly from printer to printer, and even from job to job. This comes in handy when a company uses a very specific color throughout it’s branding, like Home Depot’s Orange or Coca Cola’s Red. This color can stay consistent for anything from business cards, to delivery trucks, to ad campaigns.

There are two different kinds of Pantones colors, Uncoated and Coated. Uncoated is made to print well on uncoated (or matte) paper. Whereas Coated is made to print well on a coated (or glossy) paper. You won’t be able to find these colors in the Color Picker, there is a special Swatch Library just for pantones. If you click on the ‘Swatches’ selection (most likely on the right side of your screen), it will bring up swatches that you have loaded. I, apparently, do not have any loaded, but any color I do use later will appear in this box. If your Swatches button is not there, simply go to Window and Swatches (just like when finding your Tools bar).

Swatches Selection

When you have your Swatches box open, go to the bottom left corner and click on your Swatch Library Menu, and go down and select Color Books. This will bring up all your different Pantone libraries. Most of the time you are going to stay somewhere in the box I have showing, but if the occasion calls for it you have all these other libraries to choose from. We’re going to select the Pantone Process Coated library.


This is what your library looks like. Each of these boxes are a specific color with a designated number or name. When you hover over a color the name will pop up. In this case, the pink that I’m hovering over is Pantone DS 153-1 C. The C, of course, stands for Coated… whereas if it were Uncoated it would have a U. You have thousands among thousands of colors to choose from, each one made to work best for your job specifications.

You can also search for your pantone, if you know the number. Simply click on the fly-out menu on the upper right hand corner, and select Show Find Field.


Your ‘Find:’ field will pop up at the top of your library, and you can search away!

Just because you’ve designed your job with Pantones, doesn’t mean you can’t print in CMYK. Colors can be converted before printing, just understand that when Pantones are converted, it is the CMYK “equivalent”. The whole point is Pantone allows you to access colors that CMYK cannot create, such as a super-bright neon green Pantone is likely to print a bit dull, comparatively, as a CMYK print. Now why doesn’t everyone just use Pantones? It’s all about time and money! It’s more expensive, it takes longer to set-up and print, and requires drying time. If you’re in a hurry, you should probably use the digital printer with CMYK, but if you have the time and money, by all means, …


3007 Longhorn Blvd. Suite 110
Austin, Texas 78578, US

Do you have a project that
needs a quotation?
or give us a ring
Fax: 512-454-0488