Design Monday - CMYK, RGB, Pantone, Hex

Posted in Design

Design Monday - CMYK, RGB, Pantone, Hex

With a love for design, and finding ways to relax after work on a Monday, LUXYCLAD® is excited to bring you "Design Monday" - weekly blog posts that highlight or feature something interesting, focused around the subject of "design.


This design Monday, we'll go through the differences between Pantone, CMYK, RGB, and Hex. Knowing what each term means helps us understand colour modes, how they work, and what they do.


CMYK is a subtractive colour model, which is used in printing. The letters C, M, Y, and K stand for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (or, depending on who you're talking to, the K is also known as "key" - referring to the old school key plates used in the printing process). These are the base colours that the printer uses to make all the colours necessary for the print. Things we would use CMYK colour schemes for are business cards, brochures, flyers, standard prints, etc. Most commonly, the printer you're using will process CMYK in the order it's written - starting with cyan ink, spitting the paper back out, and then running it through again with magenta. The printer follows this process with the other colours, ending with black, revealing your true colours at the end. 


RGB (red, green, and blue) is a colour scheme used for digital devices. Examples of this additive colour model would be found on laptops, televisions, mobile phones, tablets, etc. Our computer screens use the three colours to perceive all of the colours shown on our monitors. 

Pantone Matching System (PMS)

Pantone is a standardized colour matching system, that people can refer back to, to identify colours. This system is numerical, and was put in place to ensure that two people, no matter where they are, can output the same colour (most commonly when printing). This system is highly beneficial for when printing logos, to keep the continuity in colour. Big brands will have their own Pantone colour, so that their branding colours print the exact same every time, no matter where they're being printed from. 

One of the most common colour palettes by Pantone is their Pantone Solid Coated Chart. These colours typically have three or four numbers, followed by a letter. There is either a C, M, or a U.  The C stands for coated paper, the U stands for uncoated paper, and the M stands for matte paper. 

When using the PMS, values are given for CMYK and RGB, so that we know what to set them at, when working with print or online. Using the Pantone Colour Finder (an online tool from their website, found here) we are able to find the CMYK and RGB values for our chosen colour.  In this example, I chose Pantone 3242, and was able to create this graphic because I knew which Hex code to use (more on that below).  

Example of RGB, CMYK, Pantone


Hex is one of the colour codes we use, more specifically, to determine what colour is being displayed on our monitor. An example would be: #RRGGBB or in actual use, #66d6ce. Now that we know our monitors show colour in RGB, we can actually see what parts make up the colour we're using. Hex codes are important to use for consistency, too. Just as Pantone gives you information for print, Hex gives information for digital display, which is perfect if you have a reoccurring colour on your website!

Using Colour Modes Interchangeably

Using Photoshop is a great way to learn about these colour modes, as the "Colour Picker" tool allows you to see the same colour in CMYK and RGB.

In this example, I knew the Hex code for Pantone 3242 was #66d6ce, by using the "Find a Pantone Colour" feature on their website - so I was able to get an exact match by pasting that code into the Photoshop Colour Picker.

It must be noted, however, that the CMYK values in Photoshop can differ from the true CMYK values given by Pantone. Their website says that the CMYK values for this colour are 44, 0, 20, 0, where Photoshop says they are 49, 0, 23, 0 - which although are close, are still different. Just always double check with your printed Pantone Guide, if using these colours interchangeably. They're expensive, but worth it!

Hex Codes and Photoshop

The Takeaway

As you can see, different colour schemes are used for different applications - printing, digital displays, and painting (we talked colour theory on our last Design Monday). It's important to know that different colour systems exist, so that we can get our colours looking exactly as we need them to, and it's important to know how to use them, so we can find out how to change them when we need to use them interchangeably. 

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