Choosing a Pantone Color Guide

Pantone color palette guide

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The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is the dominant spot-color printing system in the U.S. Pantone sells guides (known as Pantone books) and chips for both spot colors and for process color printing (also known as CMYK, which stands for the four colors used: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key/black). For the first-time purchaser, the number and variety of books can be overwhelming. Here's what you need to know about these swatch books to help you make an informed buying choice.

Pantone Fan Guides

Somewhat similar to the paint strips you can pick up at a home improvement store, the fan guides show blocks of several related colors with the color name or formula printed beside each color. The strips are fastened together at one end so that you can fan out the strips. Printed on coated-, uncoated-, or matte-finish stock, guides can be purchased separately or in sets.

Binders and Chips

These swatch books come in three-ring binders with pages of color blocks. The chips are little tear-off samples of colors. This format is ideal for providing samples with your artwork or digital files so that clients can get a more accurate picture of how the printed colors in their projects will appear. A few specialty guides in binders have no tear-off chips.

Coated, Uncoated, and Matte Stocks

The type of paper used affects the appearance of the ink. Swatch books are typically available on coated, uncoated, and matte stock to more closely show how the color will look in your application. Pantone also produces some specialty guides showing the inks on other surfaces such as foil and film. Purchase the books or chips on the type of stock you most commonly use.

Formula/Solid Spot Color

The formula guides and solid chips are the swatch books for spot color inks. There are more than 1,000 PMS colors and a special guide for converting PMS colors to their closest matches in CMYK or process colors. Some specialty guides focus on metallic colors, pastels, or tints.

Process Color

Process guides and process chips help simplify the selection of process colors for four-color CMYK printing. The primary process swatch books contain more than 3,000 Pantone process colors with their CMYK percentages. The books are available on coated and uncoated stock and in SWOP or EURO editions. SWOP is a printing standard used in the U.S. and Asia. EURO (for Euroscale) is used in Europe.

Digital Guides

The latest innovation in color guides, digital chips allow you to match more than 1,000 Pantone spot colors with their process-color equivalents and the output from a Xerox DocuColor 6060 digital press. The tear-out chips are available on coated stock.

Used and Old Swatch Books

The cost of old books is tempting, but new books are best. Colors fade over time, and old books may not provide an accurate representation, making them no more useful for color-matching than your monitor and inkjet printer. Additionally, Pantone has made changes over the years that render some books obsolete. In 2004, the coated and matte stock used in all guides was updated, which resulted in some color differences from previous books.​

Computer Simulation

Pantone color palettes for use with Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, QuarkXPress, and other software programs and apps simulate the appearance of Pantone spot and process colors (suffixes of CV, CVU, and CVC). These require your monitor to be properly calibrated; even still, remember that they are simply simulations. A printed swatch book is best for color selection and matching.