When you think of the biggest brands in the world, a number of features often come to mind - the logo that jumps out and is instantly recognizable, the slogan or tagline that says everything it needs to, and the brand names that have become synonymous with certain product types - but something that is often overlooked but has just as much time and investment - colour. Taking coca-cola as an example - the same red can be seen everywhere, coke red, but keeping consistency can be difficult especially across hundreds or even thousands of different people spread across different departments especially as there are so many variations in how these colours can be displayed - fortunately the colour type is universal, and the way colours are built can change depending on the method used.
CMYK - or cyan, magenta, yellow, and black - used in print work. If you’ve ever used any printing software or done any design work at all, you would’ve no doubt come across the CMYK application, also known as four-colour process. This form of printing is the most widely used in brochures, flyers, posters - anything where a lot of colours come together. The way this form of printing works is a combination of tiny transparent dots that are printed in the four different colours - these dots overlap in different ways to create the different colours that are required for that particular print job. If you’re to look through magnification, you can actually see how these transparent dots overlap to make up the colours that they do.
PMS - or Pantone® Matching System - used in print work. This type of colour matching is a little more obscure and not something you’d see unless you were directly involved in print - designers use colour swatches that are produced exclusively by Pantone themselves and the printers will also refer to the same swatches - this means that there is no difference and the standardization ensures a lot of accuracy. PMS is primarily used where very few colours are required - large logo or branding print work for example - if you’re going to get your logo with a background print for a large roller banner for example, and no other colours, you’d use Pantone for accuracy.
RGB - or red, green, and blue, used digitally. It is the most common way colours are built in digital platforms and is specific to digital only - it actually works in the opposite way to which CMYK does too - whilst CMYK is an additive process, meaning the colours together make a different colour, if you were to bring all the values for RGB together it would make white - and as such colour comes from having different variations of the colour present. If you’ve ever seen a piece of design work that seemed bright and vibrant on screen, but duller during print - this will be why.
HEX - or hexadecimal colour - online use exclusively. This is a six digit value that combines numbers and letters to define the mix of RGB for web design use primarily - although there’s no real focus on the conversation since there are plenty of tools out that for this, designing web colours without other colour values for example (outside of RGB) will give very different results.
It’s important to understand the differences in colour types when doing any sort of design and understanding their purpose - as mentioned doing print work design in RGB will often give very different results than if you were to design in CMYK - using Pantone values for block colour work can ensure a uniform set of branding compared to just matching colours each time and hoping you’re landing where you need to.