What is a PMS color?

Cornerstone Promotional Products
            Advertising Products: A PMS color fan

Color is a particularly subjective item. Our perception of it varies and our memory of it can't be trusted. If you can't see me and I say I’m wearing a blue shirt, what comes to mind? I could get more specific and say light blue. Or, even robin’s egg blue. But, have you ever looked closely at a robin’s egg (if not, you should, they're gorgeous)? They certainly aren't all the same color blue, or even all blue! As a culture, we have a general norm for that color, but I’ll bet you’re idea of exactly what that is varies from mine...or anyone else's for that matter.

If you’re ready to put your logo on an advertising product, the subjectivity of color perception becomes important. If you tell us you want a blue imprint, how can I be sure that the blue I’m thinking of is the very same blue you’re thinking of? In 1963, Lawrence Herbert set out to solve this problem for us and the Pantone Matching System was born. Ever since then, it's been the standard in the printing industry (and now digital, plastics, paint, etc. as well). It gives everyone involved with a project (printers, consumers and designers) a standardized language of color and ink formulations to refer to.

What does it mean for you?

What does that mean if you want to imprint your brand message on a wine glass for a banquet? It means that when you’re talking to one of my staff about your order, they'll ask you for a PMS color for the imprint. Yep. A PMS color. I know. We’ve heard it all before. And yes, we totally agree that they should have come up with a better acronym, but it is what it is.

When you choose Blue PMS 300C, you know what it looks like and we know what it looks like and the printer knows how to mix the ink and print the job to make the finished product appear exactly how we’re all expecting. Which would not be robin's egg blue in that particular case. 

What if you don't know which PMS color you need?

But, you say, ”Wait a minute, I don’t have any idea what that looks like!” Don’t worry, you’re not alone. If you’re not living in one of the realms where PMS color numbers are dropped in casual conversation, if you don’t have a cool Pantone peppermill on your counter, own Pantone cufflinks or have a Pantone app on your iPhone, then you would have no reason to know. But all is not lost, we do have some options for you.

If someone else designed your logo or if it’s a corporate logo, check with the designer or marketing department and they should be able to give you the PMS reference number.  If it’s a corporate logo, there may be some very specific color requirements for reproducing it.

If you want to match an existing printed piece and have no idea how or where to get the color information, we reccomend you stop in at a local print shop or office supply center with a copy department.  Most places will be glad to help you (without charge) match your color to a PMS reference fan or book so that you’ll know what number to request of your printer.

Occasionally, we’ll be able to look up a color in an art file for you. However, we prefer that you still choose or confirm the color. Often, a color is used in a file and then changed afterward. It doesn’t have to be changed in the file to be printed correctly, and often isn’t for a variety of (often legitimate) reasons. So, we prefer verification that what the file says is really what you want to print.

If you don’t know and aren’t real picky, we can help you choose a color (of course, trusting anyone to choose a color for you has inherent risks…even if its us!). If this is the route you want to take, we'll usually make you tell us in writing that you promise to be happy with whatever color we choose.