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PANTONE® began as a commercial printing company in the 1950s. In 1956, they hired recent Hofstra University graduate Lawrence Herbert as a part-time employee. Herbert used his chemistry knowledge to systematize and simplify the company’s stock of pigments and production of coloured inks; by 1962, Herbert was running the ink and printing division at a profit, while the commercial-display division was in debt; he subsequently purchased the company’s technological assets from his employers and renamed them “Pantone”.
The company’s primary products include the PANTONE® Guides, which consist of a large number of small (approximately 15×5 cm) thin cardboard sheets, printed on one side with a series of related colour swatches and then bound into a small “fan deck”. For instance, a particular “page” might contain a number of yellows of varying tints.
The idea behind the PMS is to allow designers to “colour match” specific colours when a design enters production stage, regardless of the equipment used to produce the colour. This system has been widely adopted by graphic designers and reproduction and printing houses. PANTONE® recommends that PMS Colour Guides be purchased annually, as their inks become yellowish over time. Colour variance also occurs within editions based on the paper stock used (coated, matte or uncoated), while interedition colour variance occurs when there are changes to the specific paper stock used.
While not PANTONE® products, colour charts can be found online that show approximate PMS colours rendered in RGB.
PANTONE® Colour Matching System
The PANTONE® Colour Matching System is largely a standardized colour reproduction system. By standardizing the colours, different manufacturers in different locations can all refer to the PANTONE® system to make sure colours match without direct contact with one another.
One such use is standardizing colours in the CMYK process. The CMYK process is a method of printing colour by using four inks — cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. A majority of the world’s printed material is produced using the CMYK process, and there is a special subset of PANTONE® colours that can be reproduced using CMYK. Those that are possible to simulate through the CMYK process are labeled as such within the company’s guides.
However, most of the PANTONE® system’s 1,114 spot colours cannot be simulated with CMYK but with 13 base pigments (15 including white and black) mixed in specified amounts.