I am sure you are already aware of the importance of colour in branding, we only have to think of some very successful brands to see how strongly we associate colours with them. The enticing and nostalgic red of Coca-Cola packaging, the vibrant blue and yellow seen from a distance of an Ikea store and the black packaging with the yellow lid of a row of marmite jars on a supermarket shelf. The impact of your brand colours not being consistent and accurate can have a huge impact on your brand communication.
Look at what happens when the vibrant colourways of the Ikea logo alter. Suddenly it feels bland, the impact and boldness of the logo has gone.
Understanding the differences between CMYK, RGB, Hexidecimal and Pantones, will give you much greater control and help you to achieve consistency across your brand colourways.
CMYK and 4 Colour Process
CMYK (representing cyan, magenta, yellow and black) or 4 colour process is used in colour printing. A large percentage of all standard printing for brochures and leaflets is four colour process with the most common print methods being digital printing and offset lithography. With both types of printing 4 colours are combined, one layer at a time, to reproduce a range of colours to produce full colour printed images, type and solid colours.
You may be wondering why black in CMYK is represented by K? The use of K represents the keyline or black plate, sometimes referred to the key plate.
CMYK colours range in hue from 0 – 100, surprisingly using C: 0 M:0 Y:O K:100 is not the strongest black that can be produced, instead using a mix of all four colours C86 M85 Y79 K10 creates what’s know as a rich black.
With 4 colour process printing, variations in colour can occur with different print jobs. This can arise due to many different factors including using different print suppliers, using different printing presses for different print jobs, or even using different stocks (paper) on a print job. To ensure greater consistency use a good printer who will work with you to achieve greater colour matching and consistency.
Pantone create the Pantone Matching System (PMS), a system that provides a more consistent colour reproduction when creating spot colours. Spot colours are generated by using a specfic pure or mix of ink and are used in one pass instead of a four pass like CMYK. A pantone colour allows for almost perfect matching with printing and can also be used for signage, vinyls or finishing materials to a specific colour.
Pantone + CMYK
When converting a Pantone reference to CMYK for a 4 colour process print job, it’s important to know that not all Pantone colours convert well. (see pantone chart above for an example) Results can also vary depending which printer you use. Using the pantone + series colour chart will provide Pantone recommended CMYK references or you can liaise with your printer to discuss options around matching your pantone colours.
To guarantee much closer colour matching during a 4 colour process printing job it’s advisable to specify a pantone spot colour for each brand colour. The spot colours will be additional inks and will be used in an additional pass for each ink on the print job. Specified Pantone spot colours will allow for much better colour matching for your brand colourways but they will increase the cost of your print job.
RGB colour references are used for colours on a screen, including images taken with your digital camera, websites, emails and films shown on your widescreen tv! RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue, colours are projected onto the screen using light. The colour hues range from 0 to 255, when all three colours are at their highest this produces white and the absence of colour will produce black.
RGB has a wider spectrum of colours than CMYK, this means that some RGB colours cannot be accurately converted to CMYK, so for colour consistency it is always better to convert CMYK to RGB rather than the other way round.
The wider spectrum of RGB allows for a more accurate conversion of Pantones colours meaning you can achieve some of the vibrant pantone colours which CMYK cannot accurately match.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that when viewing your brand content on different screens and devices colours can vary, this can be caused from the capability of the screen producing the colours or the user calibration of each screen.
Hexadecimal (Hex) Colours
Hexadecimal colours are read by internet browsers, RGB colours are represnted by the Hex code which is made up from either 3 or 6 digits and uses letters A-F and numbers 0-9. Hexadecimal colours are used in the design and coding of your website, online advertising banners or email design.
Sometimes overlooked during branding development, are paint references. It’s not always appropriate but definitely worth considering before colours have been finalised especially for restaurants, retail or branded environments. From my experience these can be one of trickiest areas where colour matching can be hard to achieve. In these environments a variety of materials and finishes are in close proximity to each other and if unprofessionally matched it can have a negative impact for your brand.
RAL colours are a general industry standard but offer a limited choice of colours (213 compared to the Pantone Plus Series which offers 1,677 colours). There are many paint vendors (as you are probably aware if you paint your own house!) so it’s worth exploring the options early on in order to avoid horrible mis-matching in crucial areas where your customers interact with your brand.
Hopefully you now have a clearer understanding of how colours are recreated across various media and brand touch points. My finally tip, which is sometimes over looked in smaller or newly established brands, is to create brand guidelines. This should be the bible for your brand identity ensuring greater consistency across your brand. Ensure you have clear instructions about recreating your brand colour ways. Include colour references for Pantones, CMYK, RGB and hexadecimal colour references as well as paint references (if required). Most importantly of all share your guidelines with partners, staff, suppliers and consultants and keep them updated as brand your develops.
CMYK references are used for four colour print jobs (most brochures, leaflets etc). Pantones converted to CMYK may not accurately match. If accurate colour matching is vital then speak to your design agency & printer about using additional spot colours.
RGB references are used for digital media shown on a screen, (website, emails, web banners).
Hexadecimal references are used for browsers, and also web graphics and email design.
Pantone Spot Colours provide almost perfect colour accuracy, references can be used for signage, printing and finishing materials.
Consider all brand touch points during a rebrand. Take steps early on to explore materials and finishes to see how the new brand colours will reproduce, including wet proofs.
Brand guidelines are vital for consistent colour matching. Include a section with clear concise guides providing colour references, ensuring you share with all the parties who will be reproducing your brand.