Mastering Color Models: Pantone, CMYK, and RGB for Custom Notebooks

Brief Overview

  • Pantone Matching System (PMS) provides accurate color reproduction and consistency.
  • Pantone has separate systems for package and product design, with material-specific palettes.
  • CMYK printing uses four ink colors, ideal for packaging, commercial printing, and photo-printing.
  • Halftoning is essential in CMYK printing for various color combinations.
  • RGB color model is used for digital screens, combining red, green, and blue light to create hues.
  • Pantone is best for precise color matching in print, RGB for digital displays, and CMYK for various printed materials.
Pantone Guide

1. Understanding Pantone

Pantone colors are part of the Pantone Matching System (PMS), a method for identifying complementary colors. They are more reliable than process printing, particularly for colors of orange and green.

The PMS uses four process colors and one or two Pantone colors (spot) on five or six color presses for an exact color match.


  • Pantone Matching System for color identification
  • Distinct colors of ink produced
  • Color swatch book with hues
  • Ideal for difficult-to-reproduce colors
  • Compatible with five or six color presses
  • Color code and physical swatch for each color
  • Widely adopted for color consistency
  • No inconsistencies in visual presentation compared to CMYK

Comparing Pantone's Two-Color Systems

Pantone offers two distinct matching methods for package and product design. They have developed 1,867 hues from a palette of 13 primary colors, creating "market-relevant hues."

Black, white, and neutral hues work well for product design but may not suit retail packaging. The printed medium also affects color appearance, so Pantone split its PMS into two independent systems.

2 Pantone Systems

  • Package design system
  • Product design system
  • Developed from 13 primary colors
  • Market-relevant hues
  • Separate systems for different materials
  • Ensures colors reproduce well on specific materials
  • Vibrant colors for printed designs
print quality check with Pantone
PMS Color Palettes

PMS Color Palettes

Pantone offers different color palettes based on the material you'll be printing on, such as the Pantone solid palette, process palette, textile palette, and plastic palette. Some colors may not be suitable for printing, depending on the substrate.

Pantone Palettes

  • Solid palette
  • Process palette
  • Textile palette
  • Plastic palette
  • Palettes based on printing material
  • Ensures color suitability for specific substrates

Using Pantone

Pantone is ideal for accurately reproducing company logos, saturated colors, deeper shades, and metallic and brilliant hues. Pantone printing provides better color accuracy and quality than CMYK printing but is more expensive.

Pantone pricing depends on the number of colors used and the square footage covered. When designing a brand's identity, Pantone colors are chosen to represent the brand, with complementary CMYK and RGB color alternatives for in-house printing and screen use.

Pantone Benefits

  • Accurate color reproduction for logos and branding
  • Saturated colors and deeper shades
  • Metallic and brilliant hues
  • Superior color accuracy compared to CMYK printing
  • Used by governments to define national flag colors
  • Ideal for logo design and corporate stationery
Using Pantone

2. Understanding CMYK

CMYK printing uses four ink colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black, known as subtractive colors. Different from RGB, these colors are subtracted from one another, and ink dilution is required for pastel shades.

CMYK plates must be "keyed" (aligned) with the black plate, giving the term "key" in place of black. In the four-color process, each color is individually placed on the paper and padded with tiny overlapping spots of color (half-toning).

CMYK Applications

  • Commercial color offset printing presses
  • High-quality color laser printers
  • Home printers for publishing photographs
  • Inkjet picture printers with additional cartridges for subtle color adjustments
  • Subtractive color blending
  • Dilution for pastel shades

CMYK and Halftoning

Halftoning, also called "screening," is crucial in CMYK printing. It reduces primary colors' intensity, allowing the CMYK color space to accommodate various color permutations.

The human eye interprets colors as a single hue depending on how they are printed. Halftoning with magenta, for instance, can create a convincing pink when printed on white paper with magenta dots far enough apart.

Factors in Halftoning

  • Overlapping grids of small, transparent CMYK ink dots
  • Unique angle for each shade of ink
  • Determining the halftone's angle or "slope"
  • Placing dots at different distances for harmony
  • Expanding the range of hues through stacking primary colors
Using CMYK

The Benefits of Using CMYK

CMYK is best suited for packaging and commercial printing applications, creating artwork that closely resembles the final printed product. CMYK is commonly used in home and business printers and is ideal for photorealism, photo-printing, and photographs with a wide range of colors.

However, the color spectrum is limited compared to Pantone and digital screen colors (RGB). Additionally, CMYK colors might appear differently from one printer to the next and even on the same page.

Advantages of CMYK

  • Ideal for packaging and commercial printing
  • Photorealism and photo-printing capabilities
  • Wide range of colors for photographs
  • Texts and graphics printing for home and business use
  • Limited color spectrum compared to Pantone and RGB
  • Potential variations in color appearance between printers

3. Understanding RGB

Color spaces often use three primary colors: Red, Green, and Blue (RGB). These colors create most digital images on computer screens and the digital camera captures. The additive nature of white light enables the RGB color model, meaning colors combine to produce lighter hues. Absolute white is achieved by mixing equal amounts of red, green, and blue, while other colors result from different combinations.

RGB Color Combinations

  • Combining various amounts of red, green, and blue to achieve a wide array of hues
  • Six distinct intensity levels for each primary color (0%, 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, 100%)
  • 63 or 216 color possibilities, depending on the system
  • Technical limitations historically affected color representation on screens
  • Improved color accuracy on screens due to research, new tools, and enhanced coding

Disadvantages of RGB

  • Not ideal for printing and packaging
  • RGB colors may not appear the same when printed
  • Converting from RGB to CMYK requires additional color adjustments
  • The final print product may need more adjustments to match the original RGB design
RGB Color Model
Pantone, CMYK & RGB Comparison

Pantone, CMYK & RGB Comparison

  • RGB uses light to blend colors on digital displays for the accurate on-screen color representation
  • CMYK employs ink for a wide range of color combinations in print on paper and other materials
  • RGB is not recommended for print, as colors on screens appear more vibrant than on paper
  • Pantone ensures accurate color matching in print projects for consistent brand colors

Extended information

A Xerox report suggests that using color can increase readership by 80% and comprehension by 73%, emphasizing the importance of the correct color model for custom notebooks to engage your target audience effectively.
Su - Interwell Founder
Hi, I'm Su, the author of this post. I founded Interwell Stationery and have served over 1000+ clients since 2003. Feel free to contact us for custom stationery supplies, manufacturing support, and the latest trends in the industry.

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