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Ding-ding! The fight is on! When we start each new project with customers where artwork details are involved, we start to get more and more questions about using PMS and CMYK colors to make sure we have your images with just the right shades. But … what are we asking for? It can be confusing, so here’s a quick comparison and explanatory blog.

Contender #1: PMS

The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is a universal color matching system put out by the Pantone company. They’ve amassed a large variety of colors that they’ve assigned numbers (and sometimes letters) to in order to give people a base to compare with. This is done through printed or dyed samples – books of colors that you can purchase in order to have a physical representation of the color in your hands. You can point to the color and say, “That one – that’s what I want!” and someone far away in a print shop or fabric dying facility can create a print or fabric with their own Pantone comparison to ensure that the colors are accurate.

The books and samples from Pantone cover many different styles, such as using coated/laminated books in addition to plastic and fabric samples so that you can accurately test colors against the final media they will be represented in. It does no good to print a sample sheet of paper when you’re going to be dying some cotton, after all. PMS use is a comparison of final products to ensure that what you’ve created matches the original customer desire.

Celina Tent accepts any Pantone Solid Coated colors; because of our print processes, we can’t print or match any specialty colors outside of the standard range, such as metallic or neon.

Contender #2: CMYK

The way printers work is by creating colors through a mix of four basic inks – cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y), and black (K). Taking a scientific approach to color control, a CMYK number gives you a percentage mix of all the available inks that will (or should) create the color of your choice. From a manufacturing perspective, you’ve giving the print manager the recipe for the exact colors you want.

This is much more precise than trying to adjust by the final result but has a multitude of other factors that influence the final product. Is the machine calibrated correctly? Are the ink batches matching with the same color density, and therefore having the same appearance? Even through use of a CMYK percentage, it never hurts to also have a listed PMS number to check the final result.

Could-Have-Been-A-Contender: Marlon Brando

On the Waterfront is actually a pretty good movie.

The Issues

Well … it looks like we have a tie! When you break down the use of each separate number, you come to find that they aren’t really working against each other at all. Each measures a different metric in the overall print process, and as far as we’re concerned over here in quality land, the more the merrier. That having been said, here are a few of the main issues people have in the print order process that need to be addressed:

  • People’s Eyes See Color Differently

Mostly covered by the use of the PMS and CMYK processes, two people can see a completely different rainbow when they take a good long look. While using a common sample from the Pantone book or looking up the ink percentages can help out, it’s important to note that the observer might not see just what you see in the same picture.


  • Not for Images; Artwork Only

With the WIDE RANGE of colors that exist in even the simplest photo, there is no way that either a PMS color or CMYK can be utilized to make the image look a certain way. Similar to how we can’t take a low-quality photo and just “make it better”, there are just far too many colors present in a picture taken of your dog too really use any sort of common reference for coloring. Color matching is primarily for drawn images or logos and branding designs – think of the red used in the Coca-Cola logo as opposed to a photo of someone taking a drink.

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When all is considered, providing the most back-end info on your color of choice is the best way to make sure your final product is just the right shade. If you’re having difficulty in figuring out if your image is going to print well, give us a call at (866) 438-8368 for a quick chat with a customer account manager or email your questions to Art@CelinaTent.com.