It used to be that every logo had specific colors that were chosen from the Pantone Matching System. These PMS colors were noted by number and might be 185 red or 541 blue. As a designer, that was always one part of the logo design job: to choose and assign the PMS color for the brand identity.
Pantone colors are used in offset printing jobs when you print something like a one-color, two-color or three-color job. This used to be very common for business cards or letterhead. If something prints 4-color (CMYK) whether with a traditional offset printer or with a digital printing system, PMS colors are not used and will be converted if they are part of a file. Read this, if you need a better understanding of the difference between CMYK and PMS colors.
Nowadays it is not always necessary for a logo to be designed with Pantone colors or assigned PMS numbers.
We have many clients who find it more economical to get their business cards digitally printed (four color) rather than offset printed, even if it’s just one or two colors.
Therefore, we do not have to select a PMS color for their logo. But should we?
Consistency of your brand elements such as your logo is critical to helping customers and prospects make a visual connection with your brand across different media.
Pantone PMS colors are a good tool for defining the visual elements of your logo and brand identity. However, this can also be done by having your designers indicate your key corporate colors using other color systems such as CMYK, RGB and web hex colors.
Therefore, it is not critical that there be a specific PMS color, but there must be a specific formulas for the colors that are used in print and online.
Minimize color conversions
When we finalize a logo, we always provide a logo library to our clients. A common mistake clients make is to use the files in a way that converts the colors back and forth between different color systems.
For example, our clients will place an RGB jpeg file in a Word document, but then send it to be digitally printed, which is a CMYK process. That means that their corporate color may have started as a CMYK file, then became translated RGB, and then translated again to CMYK. Every tool that makes this change from one color system to another uses formulas to make the conversion. As a file gets changed over and over the true color can drift from where it originally started.
Quick case study
For New England Clean Energy, we designed their logo and selected PMS 300 blue for their corporate color. It has been important for them to have this logo as one color because they apply it to many different applications such as embroidered shirts, signs and printed materials.
However, we have extended their brand identity beyond the logo with the use of what we call the “solar waves” those are the yellow wavy lines that are featured on their web site, their tradebooth, etc. Those were initially introduced in a printed brochure (see below). Therefore we selected a CMYK value for the yellow color: (0Cyan / 20 Magenta / 100 Yellow / 0 black). We never assigned a PMS color because those waves would always be used in a situation that was either CMYK or RGB.
Every strong brand identity should include pieces of the visual identity that go beyond the logo. For New England Clean Energy this includes the sky with clouds and the yellow waves. But, they don’t necessarily need a PMS color assigned to them. The CMYK formula we used on the printed pieces, and also the RGB formula used on the web site both work well. In fact, when we tried to go back and find a PMS color to assign to the yellow, we found there was no Pantone color that was an exact match. Unless they are going to print something using PMS-specified inks (very unlikely), knowing the CMYK and RGB color values should be sufficient.
No, you don’t need a Pantone (PMS) color for your logo, or other elements of your brand identity, but you should have defined the key colors in at least one color system and have noted the formulas.