Color 101 - Understanding Color Basics

Hi All! I’m here today to talk about color basics.

As a designer, I’m constantly working with color to help clients achieve consistent results for their brands. As business owners, myself included, we all want our branding to stay consistent across every piece we have — this includes our colors. I mean, if Coke’s red came out pink, or Tiffany blue turned out lavender, it just wouldn’t be the same, am I right?

I provide my clients with the all color information they need to get started creating custom pieces for their website and brand. But I know the color lingo—RGB, CMYK, Pantone, what?—can sound like a foreign language. Let’s say you’re using your brand new logo package to set up your Squarespace site, and you want to coordinate some text with the color of your logo. Which color code do you use? How can you be sure it will match? Or you’re wanting to get custom mugs printed. What color should you specify?  

Before this becomes frustrating (and maybe expensive! Reprints = no fun at all), I’ve included really helpful information in this post to help you out. Investing just a little time on educating yourself will go a long way to one, understand what your designer or vendor is talking about, and two, achieving your goal of brand consistency across different types of media. And P.S. to my clients, you can always give me a shout out if you need some guidance!

So, let’s get started!

DEFINING COLOR

RGB COLOR

“RGB” stands for Red, Green, and Blue—the primary colors of light. This color mode is used exclusively to create colors on screens—for example your computer, smart phone, tv, digital camera. Different percentages of red, green, and blue light are added together to create more than 16 MILLION colors!

LuteAndHarpRGB

Any images you want to use on a screen should always be saved in RGB. For example, if you’re setting up a Squarespace website, you’ll want to use an RGB image of your logo to properly display your brand’s color. If you want to dial in that same color for your text, then you can enter a Hex code (or hexadecimal code)—a six digit code of letters and numbers. A hex code tells the computer how much of each color (red, green, blue) to put together to create what you want to see. The first two numbers in a 6-digit Hex code of the code represent the percentage of red is in the color, the next two represent green, and the final two represent blue.

I provide all my branding clients with the hex codes to match each of their company colors.

I provide all my branding clients with the hex codes to match each of their company colors.

 

CMYK COLOR

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black—the primary colors of printed ink. This color mode is used to create colors on printed pieces—magazines, business cards, brochures, banners, etc. Your home printer and a commercial printer will both use CMYK process of mixing colors to produce a printed design.

Like RGB, different percentages of CMYK inks are combined to create your company’s colors. However, 100% of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks adds up to black—complete opposite of the RGB process! CMYK printing also has a more limited range of colors than images set in the RGB mode. Some colors—especially neon and bright colors you might see on screen—are very hard or impossible to reproduce in a CMYK print.


So how can you achieve your neon green color in a CMYK print? How will a vendor be able to know which teal shade you’re shooting for in your brochure? How will you keep these colors consistent? Keep reading!


THE PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM

The Pantone Matching System is the standard for specifying unique colors and controlling their use across multiple media. Pantone is known for their color swatch decks (referred to by designers as “Pantone colors,” “PMS colors”) that allow specific shades to be chosen and communicated between graphic designers and print vendors. The Pantone company uses 18 basic inks to create the approximately 1,700 custom colors in its primary deck. There are also decks of metallic inks, neons, and pastels. These swatches can be referred to as "Spot Colors" because instead of being printed from a mix of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks, the color is a solid spot, printed from a pre-mixed, quality controlled ink. The extra ink color added to the process maintains the integrity of the color.  

The day I got my Pantone swatches I was so excited! Definitely a must have tool for the branding designer. 

The day I got my Pantone swatches I was so excited! Definitely a must have tool for the branding designer. 

Each swatch is numbered for ease of reference in the Pantone Decks. Let's say your designer specified PMS 324C as the color your new logo. When you tell your business card print vendor that you would like to match PMS 324C, he will be able to look at their Pantone swatch deck to make sure the color they print is on point.

Not all printers—especially copy shops—have the ability to print a spot color, but Pantone makes suggestions for matching the color using only CMYK inks. The company also makes suggestions for matching the color in RGB images as well. I like to provide my clients with all this details so they can provide as much information as possible to their vendors. 

PHEW!

That was a lengthy article, but I really only just got started on sharing all I know about color and your brand! Keep an eye out for the follow up post, Color 102 - Working with Custom Colors. 

Do you have color questions? Leave a comment below, and I may answer it in my next post!


Are you interested in partnering with me on your upcoming branding design project—including color palettes that work for you? The next step is to let me know! Visit my Design page for more information on the work that I do, my Portfolio page to see samples of my work, and my Contact page to start our conversation!