How To Use Color Books

Pantone Color Systems are the most popular means of color communication in use today. Pantone tools facilitate color management during concept, design, and manufacturing phases and include the following:

  • Analog

    Color Guides in fan-deck format and chips books;

  • Digital

    Software interface with software and color output device manufacturers such as Adobe, Hewlett-Packard, Xerox, Quark, and Microsoft to ensure the best possible representation of Pantone colors.

This column addresses use of the analog tools, as this is the typical starting point. Possible concerns should be noted at the outset of color specification.

The most widely used fan deck is the Pantone Formula Guide. More than 1,000 solid colors are featured on coated, uncoated, and matte paper stock. Ink mixing formulas for lithographic printing are provided for each color. Additional publications within the Pantone Matching System address the popular desire for metallic colors, the niche requirements for pastels, and the need to visualize solid Pantone colors in CMYK and as tints.

Pantone books provide six perforated tear-out chips for each solid color, making it easy to select, specify, and communicate color. Individual replacement pages are available.

The next generation of solid color specification was introduced by Pantone in 2007. Called Pantone Goe, it features 2,058 solid colors and addresses the needs of the graphics industry today as well as into the future.

Pantone produces its books on offset presses using commercial, oil-base quickset inks. Here are some variables to consider when using the books.

  • Print Process

    The guides and books are produced on an offset press, so there will be inherent appearance differences when compared to flexo and gravure print.

  • Process Variation

    The publications are subject to some normal variation, although small, even within a specific run. This variation is minimized by all participants in the workflow having fan decks and chips from the same print run.

  • Version Control

    Over the years, to mirror industry usage and availability, Pantone has changed substrates. Changes in color, gloss, brightness, opacity, and smoothness all affect the appearance of an applied color, yet another reason to ensure use of the same edition by all.

  • Substrate

    Matching a color on film or foil becomes subjective. The opacity of the coated paper used by Pantone is 96-98. White ink opacity in flexo and gravure print is only 50-55. This is an important point to take into consideration when specifying a Pantone color.

  • Color Space

    Inks used to produce the guides are based on specific offset ink pigments needed to ensure lithographic print properties on the press. There are 13 basic single pigment colors along with black and transparent white. Some of these pigments do not function in liquid inks, and alternate, more suitable pigments are used. This in turn leads to difference in color space — not necessarily more restricted, just different. Also, there may be end-user specifications on regulatory restrictions for heavy metals, such as copper and barium, and requirements for light fastness and chemical resistance, all of which call for different pigments and percentages.

  • Time Sensitivity

    Physical color guides degrade with time due to light exposure, chemical reaction, and yellowing paper. Exposing them to a viewing light only when needed can reduce color changes. Some colors will be expected to fade because they employ everyday printing ink grade pigments. Procedures should be in place to replace color guides on a regular basis.

  • The Basic Principle

    Using Pantone color guides as a starting point, specific substrate and print process color standards can be produced. These would be both physical and digital standards. The scenario to avoid is when the guide or chip is used at press side for initial color approval. Too much is left to interpretation, which should have been eliminated by the brand owner much further back in the workflow.

Pantone Color Systems are very useful tools in color management and communication. However, they should be used only as a guide and with knowledge of the limitations given in this column.

Process improvement expert David Argent has 30+ years of experience in process analysis with particular emphasis on ink and coating design and performance. Contact him at 314-409-4304; djvargent@sbcglobal.net.


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