Understanding Colour

When you talk to a designer they may throw groups of letters at you when they talk about colour but do you know what it means and the difference it makes? Here are the basics.


Cyan Magenta Yellow and Black.

This is the standard colour format when working with print. Think of your printer at home. Most come with 4 cartridges, 1 of each of these colour, and combining them allows you to make any colour you want to print. Anything white is just let without ink.

And in case you were wondering 'K' Stands for 'Key', In traditional plate printing the black plate was the 'Key' plate to which all the other colours were aligned. It is also the letter of the alphabet not used by any other colours so can not be confused with Blue or Brown for instance.


Red Green Blue

This is the format used to produce images on a screen, your phone, tablet, TV etc. Combining dots in these three colours allows you to make the whole spectrum. With RGB, white is made when all three are combined in equal measure.

If you have a logo with a solid block of colour you may find it appears different across print and digital media. This is because although you can closely match colours using CMYK and RGB colours you can not get a 100% accurate result. If you want to ensure your colour is always the same you need to use a Pantone colour or PMS

PMS (Pantone Matching System) / Pantone.

As I said above. When you make a colour using CMYK or RGB the printer or computer chooses how much of each core colour to mix with the others to make the final colour you want. However not all printers and screens are set the same and one may add more of one particular colour than another making the colour ever so slightly different.

Pantone colours are an established industry standard, controlled by very processes pre-set formulas. The means if your logo uses a PMS colour, you can go to any designer and any printer in the world and your logo should re-produce exactly the same, every time.

HEX The Hexadecimal System

If you have done any web design work you will have noticed the Hex colour code system. The Hex code is 6 digits long, made up of 3 sets of 2 digits telling you the % of Red Green and Blue used to produce a colour. For example #000000 would be black as it stands for 0% of each colour. #010101 would be the darkest possible grey. #020202 the next darkest grey.

So where does the letters A, B, C, D ,E, and F come in? They are used to keep the codes short. There are 256 possible shades of each Red, Green and Blue. If you wanted to create white the code would be #256256256, 9 digits long. Instead the HEX system replaces the numerical figures 10-16 with letters A-F. Imagine a grid, with 17 columns and 17 rows. Starting at 0, through to 9 then A through to F on each axis. There are 256 points on this grid, each one is a shade of Red, Green or Blue. Combine these three grids to create your HEX reference.

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