What is Color Matching?

Making sure that your specifically chosen color is represented throughout your marketing efforts accurately is paramount to your business’ success. If you find yourself asking, “what is color matching?” then don’t fear because Spectrum Signs is here to help you understand the basics.

What is a Color Space?

There are two environments where color is used in a design. The color space that the design is made in will heavily influence what the output of the color is. The two color spaces are RGB and CMYK. If you were to try and design a printed piece in an RGB color space the colors represented on your screen will be very different from what is printed. The software and printer will handle the conversion of those colors, but, it’s likely that most of the colors, especially blues, purples, and pinks, will be inaccurate. RGB is used for designing online marketing materials like web banner ads or images for email marketing campaigns. CMYK is used for printed materials like vinyl banners, vehicle wraps, routed signs, and other unique printed projects.


To expand on this further let’s discuss how different mediums display color. Monitors like your TVs, smart devices, and computer monitors display color in an RGB color space. That means they use red, green, and blue light to display all color by mixing those three colors in different levels to output a single color. We can see this in any of the Adobe programs such as InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator. If you look at the RGB Color Space Box you’ll see that we get red by putting the largest value we can (255) in the R box which seems pretty simple and then leaving G and B both at 0.

When you’re designing for something that’s meant to be printed you’ll need to make sure you’re working in a CMYK color space. CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The reason you need to work in CMYK is that all printers use these color inks to produce a single color specifically, from the small desktop printers in your home office to the large Epson printers here at Spectrum Signs. If you look at the CMYK Color Space Box you’ll see we get the same color red by mixing two colors together (Magenta and Yellow) and leaving cyan and black at 0. The machines we have at Spectrum Signs are also equipped to print white ink which is helpful in layering a backing layer of ink to make colors pop, printing on dark substrates and items, and printing on glass.

RGB Color Space Values what is color matching

RGB Color Space Box

CMYK Color Space Values what is color matching

CMYK Color Space Box

A common problem when designing is that you’re viewing your CMYK colors in an RGB color space when you look at your monitor. Sometimes, the conversion between visual displays and printers will misinterpret a blue color as purple and without adjusting for that or working with a printer that knows to look for those common problems it could be decremental to your finished project. When you’re previewing what your printed project looks like, if you’re looking at it on a screen, it won’t be 100% accurate to what it looks like printed. The reason is that the mediums are too different to match completely and also because no two monitors use the same color settings. If you were to purchase two monitors from the same manufacturer and set them up side by side you’ll see that that the colors won’t match up 100% between the two of them. Something that can be done to adjust for that is called color calibration. Calibrating the color on your screen is important to proof properly or at least as close as you can to have a sense of what you’re looking at. This is less important for when you’re using a PMS color in your project.

When You Should Use PMS Colors

Pantone Color Book
Pantone Color Book process color separation colors

Sometimes a company will have a brand book or a set of branding guidelines that call for a very specific color or multiple colors to be used through all of their marketing efforts. Picking a PMS color can help with adding consistency to the brand which will help customers quickly identify your brand over time. This is extremely helpful when you’re making a billboard or any large sign that’s typically viewed from passing motorists where your message needs to be understood within seconds. When you can quickly let the viewer know who is selling to them by using color and other design techniques then you can spend more time introducing other concepts like sale information such as introducing a new product or outlining a week of discounted items. PMS stands for Pantone Matching System and the power behind it is in pre-printed books with color swatches that relate to a specific color. Pantone colors are associated with unique values like PANTONE P 112-13 C which has its own mix of RGB (50, 164, 213) and CYMK (70.81, 19.39, 4.32, 0), which, helps to determine colors before you start designing it in an RGB color space. When you pick a Pantone color to use, the color you see in the book is the one that will be produced by your printer.

When you use a Pantone color you are typically using a spot color. The Pantone color system is largely a standardized color reproduction system. By standardizing the colors, different manufacturers in different locations can all refer to the Pantone system to make sure colors match without direct contact with one another.[1] A process color is what is used when you’re designing with CMYK (four colors – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black). When possible you should be using a spot color to make sure that the final color matches your selected color from your Pantone book. If you decide to convert the Pantone color to a process color there is a strong possibility that the color will be tints or shades off from what was originally selected, though, simulating the Pantone color is sometimes just as good. It all depends on budget and how accurate your final color needs to be to match your brand standards. Typically using spot colors adds extra cost to a printed job so weighing the balance between cost and accuracy is an important decision that will need to be made when designing.

It’s not always enough to depend on a Pantone color when printing your materials. If your printed materials all exist on paper then selecting your color should be the last step in your color picking process. However, when you’re also adding color to acrylic signs, vehicle wraps, and vinyl banners working with a printer who can match these colors on unique substrates is key.

How We Match Colors on Different Substrates

To match colors on different substrates we must first run a series of tests on each substrate. We’ll print the same color with a 5% increase in hue saturation in each direction away from the original source and then manually compare the color against the sample from our Pantone book or from what’s been supplied to us by our clients. Once we’ve matched the color by adjusting the values of CMYK we can begin to create your new sign, vehicle wrap, or CNC routed sign.

Getting your colors to match throughout all of your marketing materials is tricky, to say the least. Luckily, Spectrum Signs can help guide you through matching your color to each of your printed projects. Call us today to get started!

printed color swatches for surge sign by print nh
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