| Branding, Logo design

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Pantone (PMS) swatchesIt 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?

Ensure consistency

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.

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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.

New England Clean Energy logo

The New England Clean Energy logo uses PMS 300.

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.

New England Breeze Tri Fold brochure

This printed piece introduced the solar waves. The yellow color was specified as a CMYK formula.

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.




  1. Four Color Offset Printing | February 5, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    good post,i like the way you gave the information to us.

  2. Emily Brackett | February 6, 2013 at 3:06 am

    Thanks for stopping by, reading and commenting!

  3. David B | March 11, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    I would also like to thank you for a thorough post on this topic. This debate came up in conversation today and your information was very valuable to me.

  4. Reza Hashemi | January 19, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Good read, I also that the yellow color (CMYK 0-20-100-0) you mentioned actually has a PANTONE equivalent numbered as PANTONE DS 5-1 C , I had it in my mind, used it recently as a gold color.

  5. Emily Brackett | January 24, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    @Reza, Your comment highlights a common confusion around Pantone swatches. The DS (and DE) swatches are not part of the Pantone Matching System. They are process-color-based swatches. That was actually how I found the color to use for the company’s identity (but does not solve the issue of not having an actual PMS color).

    These Pantone Process swatches are not the same as the numbering system, but are ways of identifying process color swatches. I’m not really sure why having a strange number like that is better than using the C/M/Y/K percentages that most of us use.

    More info: http://www.pantone.com/pages/pantone/pantone.aspx?pg=20051&ca=1

  6. Lars Douwe Schuitema | December 7, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    Good read. I don’t agree on the fact you don’t always have to use PANTONE colors. Personally I think you should always use colors that are available in every color library. You can’t predict the future, so be prepared.

  7. Angie | August 12, 2016 at 12:27 am

    Great article! Even 3 years later. You have bring light to my head in this basic but big question I had.

  8. Jennifer Ellis | June 14, 2019 at 9:47 pm

    I disagree with this article. As a graphic designer with 19 years working mostly in the print and promotional products field, I am constantly needing to compare colors to Pantone swatches. Many promotional product companies require Pantone colors for imprinting products. If a client is particular about their logo and branding having the exact color match at all time and in different facilities – I strongly suggest matching your logo colors to Pantone. In digital printing the colors will be converted to CMYK or RGB, but if a Pantone color is used, most all printers have access to a Pantone formula guide for better color matching. I suggest having your logo in several formats – Pantone, CMYK, and RGB.

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