Making Sense of Your Brand's Color Palette

 
Demystifying Your Brand's Color Palette - cracking the code on color values, what they mean, & when to use them
 

Just as logo and brand files can be a bit confusing to implement, I've encountered more than a client or two that is totally baffled by their brand's color palette. Although they're absolutely smitten with their brand's new color scheme, it's all those color values that are the issue! Pantone, RGB, CMYK, and hex—what does it all mean? Which ones do you use for print? What about web? Does it really even matter?

Although it can be frustrating at first, it absolutely matters. Not to worry—your brand's color palette doesn't have to be another headache! I'm here to break down the different color terms you'll likely encounter in your brand guidelines so you know what they mean and how to use them.

Channeling the Right Colors

With print, a series of inks are used to replicate your brand's color palette. For digital and web applications, a combination of light and color is used to simulate it. Each medium produces colors in a distinct way, and requires a unique recipe to replicate them.

Print

For printing, it's best to use the CMYK values in most cases. However, when printing a large run and using minimal colors, it’s recommended to use your Pantone Matching System (PMS) colors.

CMYK

CMYK is the mode for color printing, which stands for the mixture of colors used—cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black)—to produce your desired colors. For most of your printing needs, CMYK will be the answer.

Pantone & PMS

A long time ago, it seemed nearly impossible to match colors in a universally standardized and consistent way. Pantone to the rescue! The Pantone Matching System (PMS) came about to solve this very issue, allowing designers to choose just the right shade for brands and printers to match those colors perfectly.

There are a variety of reasons to use those PMS colors. If you're using a print method where a pure or individually mixed is applied (i.e. letterpress) to the paper, use those Pantones! With a large quantity print run using minimal colors, it's more cost effective to use your spot colors with an offset printer and you'll have better print quality too. Finally, some particularly tricky or bright colors cannot be achieved with CMYK, so printing a spot color of your Pantone is necessary in these cases.

Whether your printer is using your Pantones or not, it's a good idea for him to be aware of them for matching purposes.


 Not to worry—your brand's color palette doesn't have to be another headache!

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Web

For digital applications, RGB is the right color mode and for web, the Hex or RGB color values are used. Just remember—each color can vary on different computers/devices depending on their monitor color calibration.

RGB

RGB is a color mode that produces colors through light and adding varying amounts of red, green, and blue. This is how our computers, phones, tablets, and tv's show us the colors we're supposed to see.

Hex

For web, hexadecimal (hex) color codes are often used to indicate specific colors. You'll be able to recognize them as a 6 character code prefaced by a “#”. These codes are used to indicate the intensity of red, green, and blue within the RGB spectrum to produce the appropriate shade. For instance, #ffffff represents white while #000000 represents black.

Why It Matters

Now that we all know the different color terms, why does it matter? Well, it matters because your designer has saved your brand deliverables with their intended use in mind. Your print files will be vector or high resolution saved in CMYK, and your web files will be low resolution and saved in RGB.

What happens if you mix them up and send the wrong file? The colors won't register properly if they're in the wrong mode, so they'll be off. Not to mention, print files will be too large for web and web files will look pixelated and gross when printed. So avoid the madness, follow your brand guidelines, and keep those colors in mind when putting your beautiful branding to work! Good luck!

Melissa Yeager

West Chester, PA, USA

Logo and brand designer who helps passionate, creative entrepreneurs channel their excitement and all of their ideas to create a visually stunning, cohesive brand that feels right for them while working wonders for their business.