CMYK vs. Pantone in Printing

Posted on Sep 12, 2017 by

Do you know the difference between CMYK and Pantone printing? Here’s your chance to learn which one is right for your project.

The CMYK Color Model

CMYK, also known as “four color process” is made up of four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Industrial color offset presses, high-end color laser printers, and your home printer uses the CMYK color model. When printing with four color process, each color is put on the paper separately, and then layered. Zoom in on a printed image and you will notice half-toning or little dots of color layered over one another, creating the perception of a solid when looking at it (see below images). To prevent registration issues or moiré* patterns, you must print individual inks at a specific angle and align them perfectly. CMYK is best for printing photos or other multi-colored graphics.

The Pantone Color Model

The use of Pantone printing or “spot color” is color specific and takes highly precise mixes of ink to create an exact color. It uses pre-determined colors found in a “swatchbook” to match a certain color used in the design process. Thus, it’s known as the Pantone® Matching System or PMS. Pantone colors allow a brand to ensure color consistency throughout its marketing and packaging materials. Without this consistency, for example, the website doesn’t have the same colors as the business cards; brochures don’t match the trade show booth, and packages don’t match each other.

Pantone colors can convert to CMYK colors, however, the colors have a tendency to lose their brightness and become dull.

The Takeaway

The main difference between CMYK and Pantone printing is the level of accuracy. The Pantone color system is more consistent and able to produce colors closer in shade to the ones seen in the digital design stage. However, in most cases, printing Pantone/spot color can be more costly than CMYK, especially if the print job is small. With CMYK, it’s easier to bundle different jobs together than it is with Pantone. For consistent color matching in branding and logos, Pantone is a better choice. For print jobs where exact color isn’t a concern, CMYK is the best choice. It all depends on the nature of the print job and your budgetary constraints.

Some Definitions*

Moiré Pattern – An interference pattern created by color screens overlaid at an angle. With process printing, they are inevitable, however typically so tight that they are not recognizable to the human eye.

Color Model – The expression of colors within a color space

Process Color – Four Color, or CMYK color model used in color printing

Spot Color – Pantone Color, or PMS color model used in color printing. Colors created without screens or dots.

Pantone® is a registered trademark and property of Pantone, Inc.

To learn more about how to use CMYK and Pantone in your packaging or branding process, please contact us at 920-725-4848 or