Pantone vs. CMYK Printing: What’s The Difference

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post. If you are looking for packaging solutions, click here.

Table of Contents

Last Updated on May 31, 2023 by Packoi Team

What are CMYK Colors?

CMYK colors are cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK is an acronym for the five colors). CMYK is a color mode used in the commercial printing process to generate full-color graphics and images. The CMYK color model is also known as the four-color process or the process color. It combines different amounts of color inks to create a broad range of colors. A commercial printing press using the CMYK color model generates images from tiny dots of the four ink colors.

The color matching system uses black ink as and primary color: this fifth color influences the image result by providing shading and depth. Commercial printers mix the four colors to create secondary colors on the spectrum. For instance, red and blue produce magenta when overlaid over one another, while mixing cyan with yellow makes green.

However, when printing a document in the office or at home, it is typical for the printed picture to have slightly off colors from those on the computer screen. Digital screens do not use CMYK colors. Instead, they employ the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) color mode to create color effects.

CMYK Colors

Display screen images are created by varying the three primary colors to create other colors. This difference in color generation between the printer and computer monitor makes a difference to the final print product. Digital images use the additive RGB model, while the printer uses the subtractive CMYK model.

The additive color model means that colors are created with light: additive color systems begin with black ink, and as color is added, the colors become lighter until they are absolute white. On the other hand, a subtractive color model means that the background starts off white (such as white paper in a printer), and as color is added, the environment becomes darker until it is entirely black.

Additive color systems use light to generate colors, while subtractive color systems mask colors on a white background. The differentiation in color generation means that the RGB spectrum is much more extensive than the CMYK spectrum.

As a result, one is likely to run into some problems when converting RGB to CMYK. However, CMYK colors tend to be darker in color than RGB colors because they are a narrow spectrum. There are design software options that can help with converting RGB to CMYK to prevent problems with color conversions when printing colors.

What are Pantone Colors?

Pantone colors are a range of colors specified in the Pantone Matching System (PMS), a universal and proprietary color system used by designers, manufacturers, and companies. There is a seemingly endless shade of colors to choose from, and it can be challenging to communicate the exact shade of color one wants.

Pantone, which means “all colors,” is a color-matching system that facilitates color consistency. If one chooses a particular Pantone color, they can pass that color’s name and allocated number to their designer or ink maker and receive the same pigment.

For this reason, the Pantone system is widely recognized as the globe’s authority on color and is universally used in process printing. Large brands that want consistent branding across their promotional materials can ensure that all their print projects match the exact ink color they want, regardless of where they are located. Each Pantone color is allocated a number and name so that people in different locations can create the exact color specification.

Pantone Colors

The PMS comprises 1,867 solid colors, each with a unique three or four-digit identification number. These colors are created from 13 base pigments, which are first carefully mixed to create the same pigment and then put onto one plate for printing. Pantone base inks are not mixed during the printing process, and there is no need for calibration.

The identification number of each Pantone color is followed by a suffix code that refers to the paper stock on which the Pantone color is printed. The letters U, C, or M are used to indicate “uncoated”, “coated,” or “matte” paper stocks, correspondingly.

While some colors look starkly different on various kinds of papers, the Pantone process is consistent across each of the three types of paper stocks. Pantone colors for color plastic production use the Pantone Plastic Color referencing system. This color reference uses the letters Q or T to denote color printed on opaque plastic and paint printed on transparent plastic. The suffix code is also followed by a three-digit number unique to each Pantone color.

What’s the Difference Between Pantone and CMYK?

So far, the article has covered CMYK colors and Pantone colors. However, one pertinent question is, “What is the difference between Pantone and CMYK printing?”. The primary difference between Pantone and CMYK printing is the fidelity and exactness of the final colors.

The Pantone system is universally recognized for its consistent colors: the Pantone process is more accurate than the CMYK color model. Pantone shades have a compatible color match, unlike CMYK shades which are often marked by slight color variances.

The Difference Between RGB, CMYK and Pantone

The limitations of the CMYK method in ensuring an exact match in the final product also relate to vibrancy. The colors produced by two CMYK printers can look different, even using the same document. Another significant difference between the CMYK color model and the Pantone system is the latter’s ability to produce multiple colored designs, including fluorescent and metallic colors.CYMK uses four base colors to create colors compared to the Pantone color space, which comprises 13 base pigments.

Pros and Cons of Each System

The Advantages of the CMYK Method

Photorealistic imagery: CMYK process printing is favored for its photorealistic imagery in commercial printing. CMYK works best with the printed medium since printers place tiny dots of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black to generate a broad range of colors and a vibrant and detailed image.

Universitility: The color space is an industry standard in printing presses. Most printing companies use the color space for their posters, prints, office stationery, billboards, newsletters, and product packaging. Most home printers also utilize CMYK, and there are few challenges in handling the art or file type since many media use the color model.

Pantone Colors Printing PMS

Convenience: CMYK does not require extensive color theory knowledge, unlike other color models that use vast process colors. Less color process means more productivity and comfort in print jobs.

Economic: CMYK is relatively cheaper compared to other color models. The unique printing technique of halftoning in CMYK means that a broad range and depth of colors can be achieved at a fraction of the cost.

The Drawbacks of the CMYK Method

Limited colors: CMYK has a limited range of process colors and comes with distinct shades that may be challenging to create. The solid color spectrum of CYMK process printing is narrower than other color models.

Inconsistency: CMYK printing cannot guarantee an identical color match in print projects. There is usually a 5-10% tonal difference between RGB and CMYK values. It is pretty standard for printed materials to appear duller than their images on display screens, especially for colors outside the printer’s scope.

Conversion problems with RGB format: The color generation differences between the RGB color model and the CMYK model create color conversion problems. Design software is necessary to ensure seamless conversion from RGB to CYMK.

Pantone Color Guide for Commercial Printing

The Advantages of Pantone Colors

Color consistency: Unlike other color spaces that employ subjective standards in process printing, Pantone colors are generated using a universal color system that combines a palette of 13 base colors in a particular way to create varying shades and depths of colors. This method facilitates consistency in color identification and ensures that the product is produced in the exact color as was intended.

Diversity of colors: Pantone colors extend outside the CMYK spectrum range. With PMS, one can create any pigment that would be impossible to generate using the four-ink process.

Seamless conversion with RGB format: Pantone colors have the necessary color value built to transfer a design from RGB form to print. Digital values use RGB, and the PMS values allow for the seamless transfer of digital methods to print.

The Drawbacks of Pantone Colors

Expensive: The Pantone printing process is relatively costly since one has to purchase a patented PMS guidebook to ensure color accuracy. Using Pantone colors can result in higher costs than the four-color printing process: Pantone inks are significantly more expensive than CMYK colorants.

Time-consuming: Pantone printing is time-consuming, especially spot-printing graphics, which requires changing ink every time a new color is used and washing up plates. The color system can result in large lead times in a print project.

When to Use CMYK vs. Pantone Colors

The CMYK color system is suitable for low-budget printing projects that are not overly concerned with color consistency or color range. CMYK may not be as diverse or consistent as the PMS, but it can generate a full-color wheel spectrum ideal for photographic type and high-graphics images.

CMYK is one of the best color spaces when print productivity and cost minimization are the most significant considerations. However, CMYK may not be the best color system for large print projects where consistency in every production run is critical.

The Pantone print process is standardized, and all print jobs have the same graphic design and vibrancy. The human eye can detect subtle changes in ink depth or shade; therefore, achieving a consistent color in all productions is essential to brand consistency. Pantone is the better option for color matching, given its ability to produce colors to exact specifications and the same vibrancy.

Pantone is also recommended for multiple-colored designs that involve a broad spectrum of colors. Unlike CMYLK, which uses four base inks to generate colors, PMS has 1,867 standard print colors, including pastel, neon, and metallic colors.

Pantone Colours vs CMYK Colours

Which System Gives You the Best Results

Both color systems can give excellent reproductions depending on the project’s specific needs. For instance, the CMYK color process will provide the best results in a cost-efficient print project involving easily reproducible colors. In contrast, the Pantone color system will give you the best results in a high-fidelity print project involving multiple colored designs.

How Do You Make Use of CMYK or Pantone Colors in Packaging Design?

CMYK colors are suitable for retail packaging since there is less emphasis on color matching and more freedom to vary the graphic design. To create different graphics, one can add or remove levels of each key color (cyan, magenta, yellow, or black). Adjusting the CMYK values will result in unique color variations with different tones and shades.

However, if brand consistency is an essential consideration in product packaging, the best option is PMS. Pantone colors are consistent and preferable to CMYK for branding: you can choose a specific shade of Pantone color to reflect your brand.

Using PMS, you will likely have the same distinctive color when printing retail packaging, stock boxes, stationery, counter displays, logos, and custom boxes. One can also take advantage of the extensive Pantone color spectrum to include subtle design elements in the product packaging.


The CMYK and Pantone color systems are popular in manufacturing, art design, and commercial printing. When deciding which color system to use, it is essential to consider its unique advantages and drawbacks. CMYK colors are considered an industry standard because of their convenience, economy, and productivity.

However, the color space has a limited spectrum and inconsistent reproductions. In contrast, the Pantone color system is more accurate and vibrant and has many more shades. Its primary disadvantage is its cost and time-consuming nature. Depending on your printing needs, both color spaces can be leveraged for the best results.

Get the Best Printing Service From Us

Are you looking for a design agency that can improve your brand’s relationship with customers using effective and personalized marketing solutions? Packoi Printing is one of the many design agencies that provide both CMYK and Pantone printing as a marketing solution. The agency can help with retail packaging, designing promotional material, and developing distinctive logos. Contact us quickly!

Request Free Quote Now!

Share The Post Now:


Hey there, I’m Shelly!

I really enjoy the packaging and printing industry because my work makes my clients’ products more beautiful and enjoyable. If you have any questions about packaging and printing, feel free to contact me!

You may also find these topics interesting

Send Your Inquiry Now

Get Free Sample Now!

Free standard sample can be provided for your evaluation according to your requirements.