Eightyone Design Logo

A short lesson in colour

A lesson in colour

Working with colour in graphic design can be a minefield. Pantones, RGB and CMYK can all be confusing and it is sometimes a very tricky concept to convey to clients. We usually hit this problem full force during the logo design process. The clients shiny new logo design will come packaged as an eps, pantoned and ready to use.

However, due to backlight computer screens displaying RGB approximations for the pantone the colour can look very different on a monitor. To combat this, we also create a version of the logo for web, with an accompanying RGB reference. We try to explain the basics (outlined below) and emphasise that you will always have problems with colour matching across different mediums.

This is where the confusion begins and we are often asked for CMYK and pantone information for the web logo and RGB for the pantoned logo. And this is where the headache begins.

It is important that everyone involved in the design process has a simple grasp of colour and understands what we believe to be the very basics:


The Pantone Colour System was introduced in order to combat matching colour within print work. The idea behind this was to make sure that the colour required would appear the same on all printed literature (although you will see quite a big difference between different stocks of paper – Matte / Uncoated / Coated).

Pantone colours are also referred to as Spot Colours.


Any professional print press use a mixture of four colours to produce the colour you see. The colours are made up of a mixture of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (which is black) which is shortened to CMYK. However, these colour combinations can appear different when printed on different presses or by different printers. So, if colour consistency is paramount,  you would need to use the Pantone system to ensure your get the correct colour.

CMYK is also referred to as Process Colour.


The pantone system and CMYK only applies to printed items and does not apply to anything shown on screen. This is due to screens using a mix of three colours to produce the colour you see, Red, Green and Blue (or RGB). As the colour you see on a screen is emitted by a back light behind the screen you will see a very different colour than a printed article where the colour you see is produced by the light reflecting from it.


Instead of continuously banging our heads against a brick wall we have devised a colour data sheet which acts as an introduction to the basics of colour. The datasheet accompanies the logo and brand guidelines so the client would have this to refer back to after we have explained the basics of colour to them.

We understand that working with clients is a learning process for both parties involved. We learn about the clients industry and their business and they in turn learn a little about the design process. It is important to take time to educate clients so they can know what to expect and understand what is achievable.

We would love to know if you have had a problem with explaining colour to clients or if you have had a hard time understanding it yourself? How did you deal with the problem?

Posted by Steve

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Posted on Thursday, December 10th, 2009 at 2:05 pm
Posted In Colour, Graphic Design | Tags: , ,

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