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Everything You Need to Know About Pantone Colors

Alyssa Mertes

Published: July 23rd, 2020

Whether you're creating a logo or choosing a lipstick shade, this color matching system will always give you the most accurate colors. Sure, you could eyeball your design and make an educated guess about its exact color. However, it will never look exactly the way it did last time you printed it – not without the magic of the Pantone Matching System.

It's time to think larger than the rainbow and learn about this incredible matching system and why it's the authority in custom designs.

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Pantone was, and still is, the accepted standard for many industries all over the world as far as color is concerned.

– Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute

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Pantone Color of the Year

The Pantone Color has a lot of influence in fashion trends, home décor, and the advertising world. See the full list of Pantone winners starting from 2000.

  • 2001

    Fuchsia Rose Source:

    Fuchsia Rose

    Fuchsia Rose received the honor to reflect the femininity and sexuality of the cultural landscape.

  • 2002

    True Red Source:

    True Red

    Following the devastating attacks on September 11th, Pantone chose red as a nod to patriotism.

  • 2003

    Aqua Sky Source:

    Aqua Blue

    The nation needed the hope and serenity brought forth by 2003's chosen color, Aqua Blue.

  • 2004

    tiger Lily Source:

    Tiger Lily

    Inspired by exotic locales, Tiger Lily was honored in the same year as devastating tsunamis affected southern Asia.

  • 2005

    Blue turquoise Source:

    Blue Turquoise

    Blue Turquoise was inspired by nature, reflecting the calm color of the sea.

  • 2006

    Sand dollar Source:

    Sand Dollar

    As the mortgage crisis affected millions of Americans, Sand Dollar represented neutrality and concern for the economy.

  • 2007

    Chili pepper Source:

    Chili Pepper

    Chili Pepper is an outgoing, bold color to go with the emergence of cell phones, web pages, and social networking.

  • 2008

    Blue Iris Source:

    Blue Iris

    This year marked one of the worst financial crises since the Great Depression. Blue Iris was chosen for its dependable, meditative affect.

  • 2009

    Mimosa Source:


    A large amount of the country was unemployed and facing financial hardships, leading to the warm yellow of Mimosa to inspire hope and reassurance.

  • 2010

    Turquoise Source:


    Still reeling in the financial crisis, Turquoise was Pantone's chosen shade to reflect compassion and healing.

  • 2011

    Honeysuckle Source:


    The world was moving forward from the 2008 financial crisis, needing the verve and confidence inspired by Honeysuckle

  • 2012

    Tangerine Tango Source:

    Tangerine Tango

    Tangerine Tango is all about providing the energy boost to recharge and move forward.

  • 2013

    Emerald Source:


    Stylish and sophisticated, Emerald represents growth, clarity, and rejuvenation.

  • 2014

    Radiant Orchid Source:

    Radiant Orchid

    Small businesses across the country were finding success, which is why Radiant Orchid was chosen for its symbolism of originality and creativity.

  • 2015

    Marsala Source:


    Marsala is a wine-colored shade that enriches our mind and exudes confidence and stability.

  • 2016

    Rose Quartz and Serenity Source:

    Rose Quartz and Serenity

    For the first time, Pantone chose two colors, Rose Quartz and Serenity, to represent the cultural movement toward gender equality and fluidity.

  • 2017

    Greenery Source:


    The nature-inspired Greenery is symbolic of new beginnings and a reminder to breathe in the erratic political climate.

  • 2018

    Ultra Violet Source:

    Ultra Violet

    Ultra Violet was chosen to reflect the exploration of new technology and non-conformity.

  • 2019

    Greenery Source:

    Living Coral

    Living Coral was chosen since it represents warmth, nourishment, and comfort. It's a lighthearted hue that's meant to evoke feelings of optimism.

  • 2020

    Ultra Violet Source:

    Illuminating Yellow & Ultimate Gray

    The COVID-19 pandemic was a defining moment in history. Pantone chose two colors this year to evoke deeper feelings of resilience, strength, and hope for the future.

Who Created the Pantone Matching System?

In 1963, a little known printing company called Pantone Inc. revolutionized the game with the world's first color matching system. This system was developed by part-time employee, Lawrence Herbert. At the time, Herbert was coming into printing to make extra money to pay his way through medical school. However, he had a knack for the industry and a passion to improve the current system.

Lawrence Herbert

Giving up his dreams of being a physician, Herbert used his knowledge of biology and chemistry to develop an easier way to match the company's pigments. Before Herbert came on board, there wasn't an industry-wide, regulated system for printing. This led to continuous errors, graphic designs that were not consistent with the branding, and endless amounts of frustration. Using a basic palette of 10 colors, Herbert reduced the amount of printing colors by over 80%. The numeric language made it easy for printers to communicate about the precise color they were looking to use in everything from paint colors to fashion accessories.

With the success of this new system, Herbert bought the entire company from the original owners, paid off their debt, and reached out to major ink producers around the world who all agreed to manufacture the system's ten inks. From there, Pantone became the authority on color in the printing industry. Everyone from Kodak to NEC Technologies benefited from the matching system, using it for their packaging and logo designs. Today, the Pantone color matching system remains hugely influential in that it created a universal language for colors.

What Are Pantone Colors Used For?

Almost all forms of advertising rely on the Pantone Matching System (PMS) for their colors. For example, colleges and universities use Pantone colors to print an exact color match for logos, mascots, and school names.

That's not all! You'll also find Pantone colors being used in paint, company logos, car coatings, fashion, cosmetics, product packaging, home décor, and promotional products. In fact, 25% of all orders at Quality Logo Products® rely on the Pantone Matching System.

Did you know?

You'll even find Pantone colors being used for government. Texas has set legislative Pantone colors for all of its flags.

Pantone Color of the Year

Since 2000, the Pantone Color Institute awards one of its famous shades with the honor of "Pantone Color of the Year." In 2018, Ultra Violet received the prestigious recognition of being the choice color. At the end of the day, colors are used as a form of expression. Pantone takes great care to select their colors based on their symbolic meanings and how they fit within the social world. This shade was chosen as a means to reflect the exploration of new technology and non-conformity. Purple had been a pervasive color throughout the year, showing up in fine cuisine such as the popular Filipino dessert Ube and in popular animated films such as Cars 3. Furthermore, it was inspired by rebellious icons like Prince, David Bowie, and Jimi Hendrix.

The Color of the Year has a lot of influence in products on the marketplace. Everything from fashion trends to product packaging is inspired by Pantone's chosen shade. Color is considered a major influence in branding and as such, you can expect to see many vibrant purple items throughout the year.

How is Pantone's Color of the Year Chosen?

Pantone puts a lot of thought and attention to detail into choosing the Color of the Year. A team of experts across diverse industries travels all over the world and brings unique global perspectives to the conversation. They acquire this through observation and talking with people in different countries. The cultural views dictate how color is expressed, and moreover, how the Pantone Color Institute names its chosen shade.

The team takes great care to select a color that answers the needs and aspirations of the current culture. It's important to consider the cyclical nature of color and how every year brings something new. With that in mind, they turn to contemporary art exhibits, industrial design, animated films, sporting events, new technologies, and even trends in food presentation to inspire their Color of the Year! This process is described by color expert Lee Eiseman as a "meeting of the minds" where everyone comes together and is on the same wavelength in regards to the chosen color.

Did you know?

During the summer of 2015, Pantone Café opened in Monaco. Everything inside is labeled with a Pantone color code!

Pop Culture Inspiration

Of course, not every color can be chosen as Color of the Year. With thousands of colors in their selection, Pantone often adds tones to their catalog to keep contemporary. Many of their shades are inspired by popular culture such as:

Minion Yellow

Minion Yellow
Popular for their incoherent speech patterns and slapstick hijinks, this despicable trio inspired their own brand of eye-catching yellow.

The Color Purple

The Color Purple
An icon of funk and pop music, his royal badness Prince has his own Pantone purple called "Love Symbol #2." No word yet if a "Raspberry Beret" is currently in the works.

Bates Motel

Bates Motel
This popular, Emmy-nominated series made a major impact on television and inspired its very own shade of blue based on the neon sign outside of the creepy motel.

How Are Pantone Colors Made?

Pantone colors are different from other inks in that they are specifically formulated before printing for the best results. More colors were added over the years to the original ten colors Herbert used during inception. Today, the colors come from a palette of 18 basic colors, mixed according to a specific formula developed by Pantone. To ensure accuracy, a technician mixes a small amount of the color by hand for over 1,867 Pantone color combinations!

Anyone who works at the Pantone Factory in New Jersey has to submit samples of the basic colors to become a licensed manufacturer. Not to mention, they also have to take a yearly "hue test" to ensure their vision is spot on. The Pantone technicians have to divide up color samples into four hue groups sorted by color gradients. Even more, they aren't allowed to have any caffeine because it can mess with their capillaries. Imagine how many grumpy technicians are walking around on testing day!

Pantone employees have almost superhuman levels of sight, detecting even slight variations in tone or hue to a color sample. It takes the technicians about six months to come up with an exact formula for the color they're mixing at the factory. Their superpowers even extend to seeing into the future as they are able to choose trending colors up to two years in advance based on extensive cultural and psychological studies!

See behind-the-scenes action of technicians at Pantone:

The Difference Between Pantone Colors "C" and "U"

Even though Pantone relies on the same formula for their colors, they have a way to differentiate their samples based on the paper being used. Each color in Pantone's system is labeled with either a "C" or a "U".

This is referring to the paper stock on which the color was printed. The glossiness of the paper affects the color's appearance. Since coated paper has a smooth finish it's less absorbent and takes the ink better. On the other hand, uncoated paper is more absorbent. Think of it like a wall being painted without primer. The result is PMS colors that look slightly different than one another.

Coated paper

"C" - Coated paper

Uncoated paper

"U" - Uncoated paper


Why Do We Use PMS Colors?

The world continues to advance with new forms of technology, but with all of this digital innovation, there is also the chance a computer monitor will not accurately depict an item's color. This has a lot to do with the display resolution caused by the number of pixels on screen. Each pixel reads a certain number of "bits" depending on the quality of the screen. As such, you can't go off the color you see on screen for your custom designs.

Pantone Matching System colors ensure accuracy in a tangible item, no matter what the material. From polypropylene stress balls to canvas tote bags, the imprint color will always be the same. And it's important to be consistent since your logo colors are meaningful and send a powerful message.

Accurate Colors by the Book

Pantone releases a catalog of all of their colors in formula guides or swatch books. Marketing teams and graphic designers rely on these color swatches for their branding. Printed pages lose their vibrancy over time due to light exposure or general wear and tear. As such, these books need to be replaced often to ensure the colors are as accurate as possible. Pantone recommends replacing their books annually to ensure accurate color matching. They keep up with this demand by printing a new book about once every four months.

The factory produces about 10,000 sheets per hour for these books containing 28 colors each. Any color samples that don't pass the test get put right in the garbage!

Find Your Colors with Our PMS Color Matcher

If you're ready to see the Pantone Matching System in action, we have a full gamut of the precise colors on our PMS color chart. Not to mention, you can use our free PMS Color Matcher to find your logo's exact colors. Simply upload your design and our system will automatically generate the recommended Pantone colors. Check out the recommended oranges for the Quality Logo Products logo:

If you're ready to see the Pantone Matching System in action, you can use the free PMS Color Matcher available at Quality Logo Products®. Simply upload your design and our system will automatically generate the recommended Pantone colors. Check out the recommended oranges for our logo!

Pms color matcher

Colorful Marketing Tactics

The whole idea of Pantone colors is to send a subliminal message to the consumer. For instance, if you use pinks in your perfume or dessert, people will automatically associate your brand with something "sweet-smelling" or "delicious." Colors send a powerful subliminal message, which is why consistency is the key to great branding.

Whether you're promoting the latest tech gadget or a fundraiser for your charity, you should use Pantone colors in the following:

  • Graphic images and brand name
  • Packaging
  • All forms of advertising including print and digital
  • Company signage
  • Website
  • Company logo

Of course, new trends with the Pantone Color of the Year can easily be incorporated into your marketing strategy. According to Lee Eiseman, this doesn't mean abandoning, "This doesn't mean abandoning image colors that have helped to establish a corporate identity and persona," (Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color). On the contrary, she believes:

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Most branding efforts use other colors aside from the logo, whether it's in the advertisement, on a website, or in retail. This fusion of trending colors with the classic retail logo instills a subliminal message that this is a fresh, new way of approaching your brand.

– Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute

Stats for Success

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On average, there's an 80% increase in brand recognition through color.

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92.6% of people say visual appearance is the top reason they choose to make a purchase.

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90% of judgments made about a product are based only on color.

The Bottom Line

With over 10,000,000 colors visible to the human eye, the advertising industry has Pantone to thank for consistent color. This matching system has changed the way we perceive color and brought accuracy to printing. From the vibrant red in the Coca-Cola logo to the iconic yellow on the McDonald's arch, the world around you is painted by Pantone magic!

Quality Logo Products are experts on all things printed and promotional. Let our team of awesome, incredibly good looking, and fun promo nerds help you select awesome promotional swag today!

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Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world's first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC's logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.


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8. Apium Tech, "Key Statistics on How Colors Affect Sales;"

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