The History of Colour Matching Systems


If you have ever noticed a difference in the colour you see on screen and the colour of the finished printed product, you are not alone.  Often what you see on your computer screen, isn’t always what gets printed. Computer screens display colours in RGB (red, green, blue), whereas printed material uses CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and key, which is black).

It’s important to consider this difference when working on the design of your printed collateral.  The most vibrant RGB colour tones are often impossible to re-create using CMYK inks, which is why the calibration process is important from the get-go; your monitor will always look somewhat different from the final product, so it’s critical that you bear this in mind.

This is not a new problem.  However, getting the right colour match has long been an issue, and it took until the middle of the 20th Century before a common colour matching system for printing was adopted.

It wasn’t until Pantone developed the Pantone Colour Matching System that colours were standardised, which enabled designers to specify exact colours regardless of where, or how, the artwork is printed.

There are well over 3,000 spot colours in the Pantone system which can be mixed by using 14 base pigments in precise amounts.  Most graphic designers and printing houses use the CMYK profile – a mix of the four colours cyan, magenta, yellow and black – which enables many Pantone colours to be printed. 

 Pantone plays such an important part of our life.  Not only has it revolutionised colour matching, it also has an effect on what colours we wear or use to decorate our houses, for example.  Every year, the Pantone Colour Institute publishes a ‘colour of the year’ which influences what we will see in the shops the very next season.

With print companies working with CMYK and your monitor functioning on RGB, there is often going to be a slight variation to what you see on screen to what is printed.  Installing software such as Adobe RGB profile, Photoshop, or Illustrator gives you the option to select the CMYK profile.  However, it is advisable to check with your printing company as to which colour profile is the best for your particular artwork.

Streamline Press really understand the science of colour and we can advise you on the best printing method for your particular job.  If you would like to discuss the printing of your artwork with one of our team, please contact us today and we will be happy to help.

Alternatively, if you have an upcoming project, please request a quotation here.  If it is a large, complex job, the Streamline team would be happy to advise on the best printing methods, techniques, materials and finishes.