You’ve gone through the theory and you know what colour you should use but which one do you pick?
Today we’re talking about how to choose colours in the practical sense. There’s discovering the right hues to use and then there’s picking the most practical colours to use.
Colour choice is a two part process. The first part is figuring out how to convey your brand promise through colour and also navigating the pitfalls of colour theory. Give a quick read through Get More Bites Using Colour to have a better understanding of what I mean. The second part is finding the colour that is going to best represent your brand every time.
Consistency is the cornerstone of logo design. We send these logos out into the World and we have to prepare them for the adventures they might encounter. They can easily get ensnared by a poorly designed blog or a print publication that’s not paying much attention to each individual logo they print.
Unfortunately, colour consistency is not quite as simple as you might think. Colours on the web and colours in print are different. Print method to print method varies. Printer to printer can be vastly different if not calibrated. Even country to country have different colour spaces. Oh, did I forget to mention that monitor to monitor makes a huge difference?
Agh. That’s scary. Too many colours.
So red is not red is not red. Green is not green. Glaucous is not glaucous? (that’s a real colour name) Why does it matter? Big brands are frighteningly insistent that their colours always match. They realize that inconsistent colours, like a pixelated logo, tell the consumer that they have an inconsistent product. It begs the question “If this brand isn’t concerned with its own image, how much care can they possibly put into their product?”
No customers of yours are going to think “Hey, this green is more forest than kelly, I’m out of here!” This is not the case. The scary part is they won’t be aware of why they think your business is inconsistent. It will be a vibe they will never be able to pinpoint.
Thankfully, there is a solution!
PANTONE has been the designer’s go-to for decades. They have what they call the PANTONE Matching System (PMS). It’s not nearly as uncomfortable as other acronyms of the same name. You know when you want to paint a room you first stop by the paint store and pick up way too many paint swatches? When you finally decide on one, you have the guys at the paint desk mix up the colour. This is the same idea as PMS. PANTONE has created thousands of different of inks of different colours that we now consider the gold standard. They’ve printed them all and put them in little books.
Because their inks are a specific formula that they control, we can use them as our anchor. No matter what printer uses this specific PANTONE ink, we know that it will be the right colour. Similarly if they are not printing with a specific PANTONE ink they can often match their ink to the colour in the book.
You can use these swatch books to choose the colours for your business’ logo. So let’s say on the computer you’ve landed on a greenish aqua colour that seems fitting for your pirate themed pub. You can now pick up a swatch book and find a very specific colour, like PMS 320C, that matches. Once you find this colour you can use it as the anchor to refer to across both web and print. PMS numbers are almost universally understood.
Consistency at last.
PANTONE offers a variety of books. The ones you should most be concerned with are coated and uncoated. The difference being the paper your logo will ultimately end up on. If you are having your business’ logo printed on a somewhat shiny (not necessarily gloss) stock, you are looking at coated paper. Alternatively, if the paper is very very matte looking, you are looking at uncoated paper.
Unfortunately, it is not always the case that an ink colour will look identical on both coated and uncoated. Sometimes they can vary quite drastically. In this case colours from both books will need to be specified. By having the print books in front of you, you can look at the colours side by side and make the best match.
Small print shops that are running a digital press (i.e. laser or inkjet) may not be able to match the PANTONE themselves. It depends on the quality of the shop. Again, it is best to take control here. These printers will print in CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black). Colour profiles withstanding, you can also specify CMYK values to use.
PANTONE has a book for this called Bridge. If you are using Adobe Illustrator, you’ve already got it. When you choose a PMS colour in Illustrator you can convert that colour to CMYK and it will spit out the values you need. They will look like 100,50,50,30. This basically says, use 100% Cyan, 50% Magenta, 50% Yellow and 30% Black to make up my colour.
Colours for the web are a bit of a different ball game but we can use the same trick. In Illustrator, or your vector program of choice, take the PANTONE colour and convert it to RGB (Red, Green, Blue). What comes out are both RGB values as well as what they call a HEX code—a colour code used on websites. Their format will look like #000000.
You can save your logo out in RGB mode provided the colours didn’t appear to shift too much and you feel they match well with their print counterparts. The HEX codes are something you can provide a web designer or plug into your website to use as accent colours. This will ensure other design elements match your logo.
As a side note, most monitors you will see your colour on will display differently. Managing profiles is a whole other ball of wax. Your first concern should be that your logo matches your accent colours and for the most part reflects what it looks like in print.
Once you have these colours selected you can produce the necessary logo files. The essential ones your business will need are a PMS version (print), CMYK version (print), RGB version (web), and BW version (print+web).
The reason to create all of these ahead of time is two-fold. It will be much easier and quicker for yourself to grab and use consistently. Secondly, it will be prepared and ready for anything that is outsourced or produced. Since you’ve created them all in one go, you can be sure that they all match and will always be consistent if used correctly.
Armed with this arsenal of file variations you can rest assured your baby will adequately fend off the trolls of inconsistency.