Colour differences

Pantone, CMYK and RGB colours – what’s the difference?

When it comes to design, colour is most certainly the make-or-break element that can turn the mundane into the magnificent, particularly when it comes to packaging.  Choosing the right colour or combination of colours is integral for brand recognition and the overall visual impact of your products. Just think of Coca-Cola or McDonalds. Do these products’ vivid, energetic colours stand out to you? This is the purpose of choosing the right colours for your brand – instant recall and recognition. 

When it comes to actually choosing the colours, it can be a bit of minefield due to the different terms that describe print-based colouring. The terms Pantone, CMYK and RGB are used most often in this field and it’s important to know the difference when you’re choosing between them. Let’s get into it.

Pantone (PMS)

Pantone is perhaps the colour scheme you’ll be most acquainted with. It’s associated with a colour matching system, the Pantone Matching System. This is where inks are created into distinct shades. These colours are then printed out in a colour-matching swatch book.

There are quite a few processed colour hues that are tricky to produce via process printing, particularly some shades of orange and green, so utilising a Pantone colour guarantees a consistent colour match. Projects can be printed on five or six colour-presses applying the four process colours in addition to one or two Pantone colours (spot) to make a decisive colour match. 


CMYK refers to the four ink colours applied to colour printing:

  • C- Cyan (a light-blue hue)
  • M- Magenta (a pinkish red)
  • Y- Yellow
  • K – Black 

In a four-colour printing process, all four colours contain mixtures of dots in CMYK.

The vast majority of home-grade, consumers and commercial printers lean toward CMYK inks and shades to print their texts and images. CMYK colours operate by subtracting or soaking up light reflected on a white sheet of paper. Devoid of ink on the paper, all the lights are mirrored back to the eye, and so the paper appears to be white.


RGB simply means Red, Green and Blue. These are the three primary colour shades you’ll see whenever you look at photos on a computer screen or digital camera. The colour variants comprise the mixture of these three shades. In the colour printing process, these underlying tones have to then be changed into CMYK.

RGB colours are additive shades. Your PC monitor is black, so light is incorporated to generate colour. The screen will appear white if all three shades are boosted at a 100% density.

How to use your new found colour knowledge

It's important to make sure you provide the correct file type and profile colour for the intended project. This will help to ensure the most accurate colour or colour combo on the finished product, while averting any issues with the tone. If you have any questions or need any support here, of course we're here to help!

When creating your new company logo or brand identity, it’s ideal to consider your colour in all three colour models to ensure continuity and consistency – massively important for small businesses to ensure your target market recognises your brand among the crowd.

In Other News

Community is key

Community underpins the good work your business is doing, giving people a place they relate to and feel at home...

Read more