What are Pantone (PMS) colors?

PMS (which stands for Pantone Matching System) is a color system based upon over one thousand standardized ink colors. Though the system was originally developed by the Pantone corporation, it’s the standard used by many ink manufacturers throughout the country.

Unlike the CMYK color system, where cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink are mixed during the printing process, PMS inks are already mixed long before printing begins. That helps to ensure you’ll always get the color you’re expecting and minimizes variation throughout the print run.

Advantages/Disadvantages of PMS Printing

The advantages of PMS printing include:
  • Cost-effective option for light coverage designs containing three or fewer colors
  • Rich, deep colors ideal for monochromatic designs
  • Most consistent color, with no perceptible variations between printed sheets
  • Best choice for printing certain colors, such as orange, grey and navy blue
  • Access to unique colors, such as metallic and neon hues
  • Excellent for color branding, such as matching the hue of a company logo
  • Prints small text legibly, without blurry color auras
The disadvantages of PMS printing include:
  • Less cost-effective for designs with four or more colors (not including tints of the same color)
  • Less ideal for printing color photographs

Tools for Browsing and Choosing PMS Colors

Pantone Color Book – Solid Coated/Uncoated Formula Guide

Even though you can design using Pantone colors in Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign, the colors on your computer monitor can vary greatly and will almost never look exactly the same as a printed PMS color, making any Pantone color chart you find online of limited use. To get the most accurate impression of how your printed PMS color will look, you should refer to a printed version of the PMS color book.

Pantone offers several publications that represent the industry standard for previewing and selecting PMS colors, the most popular being this Formula Guide, which includes 1,755 solid colors for both coated and uncoated stocks. It’s a bit of a splurge at $149, but it’s still the best choice if you want to eliminate the guesswork that comes with online PMS color charts.

Pantone Color Finder

Pantone’s website features a search engine spanning every single PMS color they offer. Since you’ll be viewing them on a computer screen, this tool isn’t the ideal choice for previewing a color you intend to print. It’s very useful, however, when you already know the name or reference number of a specific color you like and want more information about it.

Simply enter the color name or number into the field and click “Search.” You’ll be able to see a sample of the color along with a listing of the Pantone color books it can be found in. You can also search for specific terms such as “blue” to see the PMS colors with names that include that term.

Pantone X-Ref (Cross-Reference)

Say you’ve got a standard coated PMS color you really like, and you want to use a similar color in metallic ink, neon ink, or another Pantone category. This is the tool for you.

With X-Ref, you can select a color from one Pantone color guide (such as the basic Formula Guides, the Color Bridge, Pastels & Neons, and so on) and find the color that most closely matches it in another guide.

Start by clicking “PANTONE Color Guide” and selecting the book that contains the color you’re referencing. Then, click “Color” to browse the colors in that book and select the color in question. Finally, click “X-Ref PANTONE Guide” and select the book in which you want to find a matching color.


PMS color printing can result in some truly spectacular works of art. Similar to writing a haiku, it’s all about understanding the nuances and limitations of your medium; working within those limits can actually help spark your creativity.

Do you have more questions about designing and printing with PMS colors? Feel free to reach out today!

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