When you receive the files for your branding project, you may feel overwhelmed by the various color types provided. Incorrect usage of these colors can result in frustration and unexpected outcomes. This guide aims to increase your confidence in utilizing your logo assets and creating new materials for your brand, such as social media posts, website updates, or print materials.
However, it is important to note that this guide provides a simplified explanation of color modes, specifically tailored for beginners and focused on branding and maintaining a brand’s image. It is not an exhaustive description of color modes.
Without delving into excessive technical details, it is important to understand that the visible color spectrum (what the human eye can perceive) is further limited by the capabilities of specific devices, such as digital screens or printers.
Please Note: These are approximations for visualization purposes.
As shown in the graphic above, different color modes have varying ranges of color:
Another important concept to understand is that there are certain color modes that only exist digitally, and others that only exist when printed:
RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue, and it is a color mode that is used exclusively in the digital world. This includes screens such as computers, cellphones, digital cameras, televisions, and more.
A single color is created by combining three separate RGB color codes, each ranging from 0 to 255. This allows for a total of 16,777,216 color variations. The wide color gamut of RGB is due to the illumination of the screen, which allows for brighter and more saturated colors.
Benefits of RGB:
Negatives of RGB:
HEX stands for Hexadecimal and is a shortened version of RGB, originally created for CSS coding using the hexadecimal system. While you can use either RGB or HEX for coding and digital design, HEX is typically preferred because it is easier to copy and paste a single HEX code instead of typing in each individual three-digit color code for RGB.
Image shows the HEX and RGB color editor from Google Docs.
Benefits of HEX:
Negatives of HEX:
CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black, and it is the color system commonly used by average at-home and more economical printers (such as Vistaprint, Staples, Office Max, etc.). This color mode is frequently employed by graphic designers and small businesses for printed materials.
A single color is created by combining the four separate CMYK color codes, each ranging from 0-100%, allowing for approximately 16,000 color variations in total.
CMYK is considered a “process” color because, unlike Pantones, the printing device must calculate the correct percentage of each CMYK color and print them as millions of tiny overlapping dots. Our human eye then perceives these dots as a single color.
Benefits of CMYK:
Negatives of CMYK:
PMS stands for Pantone Matching System, a proprietary color numbering system used by professional printers. PMS colors are commonly used in graphic design and product design for print materials. As of 2023, there are 2,390 PMS colors available.
The Pantone company pre-mixes the colors to create solid spot colors. Each PMS spot color has a corresponding name and number, allowing printers to find and use the exact matching color. Spot colors are printed one layer at a time, unlike CMYK process color printing.
Benefits of PMS:
Negatives of PMS:
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