Expert Tips: A Color Primer


The ubiquity of programs like Photoshop have made choosing color an easy swatch click away. Poof! The problem many people run into is how color works across various platforms, devices and uses. Why does the red on your screen look different than what was printed on your brochure? Why do they both look different from your monitor to your iPhone? Never knew it was more complicated than a mouse click? Here is a quick basic color primer to the world of color.


Fans of Pantone swatches


The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is a series of inks used mainly in printing. Unlike other printing processes that require mixing of other colors to create the final product, Pantone came up with set colors ready to go off the shelf. Through a custom mixing process, the inks were developed and now provide a standard way to match color.

The significant thing about PMS colors is consistency. When you request the use of PMS 185 (a bright red) from any printer, for example, it will always be the same red. This means your company or brand can always have a consistent look to its logo and marketing materials if you use a Pantone color or range of colors. Digital or offset printing cannot guarantee consistency of color from printer to printer or project to project because of variables in mixing multiple colors to achieve one.

In the past few years, Pantone has also released a line of products based on their hot colors including mugs, toothbrushes, iPad cases and house paint.

Cyan, yellow, magenta and black shapes


CMYK stands for the four colors that make up the standard four-color printing process: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. By combining these colors in various proportions, millions of colors can be derived.

In offset printing, each ink is stored in its own well and printed onto the paper one at a time, layering each part of your image over the other until the final full color image is output.

Red, Green and Blue shapes


Whereas CMYK mixes colors of ink, RGB is a color model that mixes different colors of light – Red, Green and Blue – to produce a broader range of color. The main use of the RGB model is in devices that require light and images, such as televisions, cameras, monitors and scanners.

Have you ever noticed that the same movie on multiple TVs or computers can look different? This is because each reproduces levels of red, green and blue light differently, often based on the manufacturer or even age of the device.

Depending on what you are trying to create, it can be tricky to define colors in your software. The program displays on a (RGB) monitor so picking colors for a website or Keynote presentation can be pretty straightforward – but what if you need to print (CMYK) the brochure you’ve been putting together in InDesign? The colors you see on-screen often will not match what you print. A few ways to help with this dilemma: calibrate your monitor, refer to print swatch books to add CMYK swatches to your document and get a proof of your project from the printer to ensure color accuracy and make adjustments.



While you can certainly use RGB values to choose colors for a website, web designers have their own color ‘language’ called Hexidecimal color codes – or Hex value. Each color that can be viewed on a monitor is assigned a six digit code, beginning with a # sign, made up of letters and/or numbers. The hex value specifies the intensity of its red, green and blue components.

For example, the hex value for Someone Creative’s favorite purple is #91288D. Can you feel what color does for a brand – and even your mood?