Color is the spice of design (said Jack Bredenfoerder, director of BV Color Strategy, in a recent webinar) It is so true! Color evokes emotion, creates a mood, influences purchasing and opinions, and much more. Colors work together to place more emphasis on certain areas of a document or web page and to direct the viewer’s eye to the most important information.

Basic Information About Color Modes


When you are looking at the screen of a computer or mobile device, you are viewing color in RGB, which is an additive color model, using red, green, and blue light to produce the colors you see. These colors may not only appear to look different on separate devices but also on the same computer using different browsers.


CMYK is referred to as four-color process. CMYK, a subtractive model, makes up the color spectrum in print. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key. The K stands for key because the other plates (cyan, magenta and yellow) are aligned with the key of the black plate. The different color inks are actually small patterns of the primary colored and black dots that the eye sees as the intended colors. This works by masking the colors on a lighter or white background. The ink reduces the light that would otherwise be reflected.

PMS or Spot Colors

The Pantone Matching System was developed in 1963 to identify, match and create colors for the graphic arts industry as a standardized color reproduction system. Pantone colors are identified by numbers (eg PMS-186) The Pantone Color Matching System has been expanded to accommodate digital technology. PMS colors are used as “spot” colors in printing, usually in cases when printing four colors does not fit the budget. Many businesses have one or more PMS colors in their logo as their corporate identity. In that case, they may print in CMYK and add the brand’s PMS color or colors to the job. This is necessary since the CMYK equivalent is often inconsistent with the closest PMS color.

Color Inconsistencies

A client prints out a pdf proof and is concerned it looks different than on screen. First of all, on screen they are viewing it in RGB. On top of that, when using desktop printers, the colors will print out differently than the final product produced by a commercial printer. The only way to be sure of accurate color is by looking at the press proof provided by the printer.

Another consideration is the paper. Uncoated sheets may produce slightly muted or darker colors due to dot gain. The paper absorbs a bit more of the ink, where on a coated sheet, the ink lays on top of the sheet, producing brighter colors.

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