The Pantone Color Matching System is a system that allows for color identification and reproduction. It is a popular benchmark for color identification in the North American print industry. Since the Pantone Color Matching System is based off of a physical color swatch, it allows for different output devices to produce almost identical colors.
Each Pantone color has a specific code, such as PANTONE 476U. Each of these codes corresponds to a different color on the Pantone swatch book. When a color is selected, liquid ink is mixed according to specific formulas that are listed on the color swatch. These formulas are determined by the Pantone organization, which is the standards body responsible for maintaining and adding to the Pantone Color Matching System. Once the ink is mixed according to specification, it can be used with various kinds of equipment.
Pantone color printing is an effective way to resolve consistency issues found in other color formats such as CMYK. An example would be corporate logo colors. Branding guidelines within many organizations require that a logo color be reproduced with a high level of consistency on all printed products. Using other color formats can produce varying results depending on environmental factors as well as the equipment settings. When using Pantone colors, the prints can be compared to a physical chart to verify their accuracy.
Using Pantone colors requires a considerable amount of labor in comparison to CMYK gang run printing, or digital printing. A contributing factor for the increased labor would be the necessity of inks to be mixed for every order. Additionally, the mixing of inks are done manually from a set of base colors. After mixed, the ink has to be transferred to a printing press for use. Immediately after the production run, the press must be thoroughly cleaned so that any subsequent production runs are not contaminated. This entire process requires time to complete and test, therefore Pantone color printing are considered to be impractical for small production runs.
Pantone colors are not typically used to print complex gradients and colorful images. Although it is possible to do both with Pantone colors, these applications introduce similar issues that are present in other color formats such as CMYK. Pantone colors are most commonly used for simple print designs that have solid printed areas as opposed to gradients.