What's The Difference Between CMYK and PMS Colors

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What is the Difference Between CMYK and PMS Colors

What is CMYK?

CMYK refers to the four ink colors that printers use to create the full range of colors that can be printed on the printing presses. The letters each stand for one color. C= Cyan, M= Magenta, Y= Yellow, and K= Black.  These four ink colors are combined in varying percentages and printed on top of each other to create a composite image. See our graphic below for an illustration


What is PMS Color?

PMS stands for Pantone Matching System. PMS colors are specific ink colors that are premixed before they are applied to the print surface. These colors allow for a wider range of reproduced colors than CMYK. PMS colors are mostly used when businesses want to reproduce an exact shade of a color for use with something like a corporate logo. Another use of PMS colors might be for reproducing a specific metallic ink look. The PMS colors are identified by a unique Pantone Number and are further segmented by whether the substrate (usually paper) you are printing on is a coated stock or and uncoated stock. The colors can vary in hue depending on the type of substrate.


What if I Use Both CMYK and PMS Colors in My Design?

Sometimes during the design process some elements of the design will be specified as CMYK color and others may be specified as a PMS color. Most printers will convert PMS colors to a CMYK equivalent during prepress unless you specify that you want the additional PMS ink, because most of the time the printer is going to be running 4 colors on their press. The converted colors may not reproduce the exact hue that the PMS ink would. If you want to keep the Pantone color for a specific element, the printer can add the Pantone ink to its own layer, but be aware that adding additional inks beyond the traditional CMYK will likely cost you more than if everything were converted to CMYK.


Viewing CMYK or PMS colors

When viewing CMYK or PMS colors on your computer monitor it may not appear the same way that it will print. This is due to variations in lighting and your monitor's display capability. The best way to see how the colors will appear when printed is to view the swatches in a printed Pantone Color Guide which is available directly from Pantone or at most graphic arts supply stores. The books can be several hundred dollars for each set, but it will be well worth the investment if you do graphic design on a regular basis. If you can't afford to buy the books, consult with your printer and they should be able to show you a sample from one of theirs.