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It’s a Pantone Playground

It’s a Pantone playground

It’s a Pantone Playground

Pantone. What a beautiful word. It just rolls off the tongue.

As any designer knows, Pantone provides a collection of numbered spot colours that cannot be reproduced in CMYK. It is device independent, thus ensuring solid, accurate colour reproduction every time. Basically, it means “I want this colour – I get this colour.”

Pantone guides are now a staple of the graphic design industry. In fact, most designers can easily name their favourite swatch; mine’s 485.

Humble beginnings
It’s hard to believe Pantone has only been around for 50 years. The organization started out as a small print company in New Jersey, and was propelled forward with the help of a then temporary employee, Lawrence Herbert.

Herbert was hired fresh out of university and had originally planned on going back to school to study medicine. His plans changed, and in 1962 he bought them out. A year later he introduced PMS (Pantone Matching System) and, in doing so, revolutionized the business of colour.

Today, Pantone is known as the global colour authority, with millions of brands banking on Pantone ink to ensure consistent identity colour.


As with any successful brand, the company expanded – and somewhere along the way came the swag.

I remember when I received my first Pantone mug as a gift. I was thrilled and, of course, wanted more. With a heads-up from a colleague, I visited my local Chapters store and was overjoyed to find a colourful pyramid display of bright, shiny Pantone mugs. It was like a little piece of designer heaven against a backdrop of lattes and magazines.

While I was standing in line to purchase the second piece in what would surely become an abundant and drool-worthy Pantone collection, the question occurred to me: “Pantone in Chapters? Has Pantone gone… mainstream?”

The Pantone Universe
Today, what was once reserved only for designers, creatives and the print industry has now indeed become part of the mainstream. Perhaps even more quickly than the introduction of additional colours, Pantone is now churning out consumer products.

It’s become much more than a standardized colour system, and enveloped a market far greater-reaching than it initially intended. In fact, anyone with an appreciation for colour and branding can get their hands on scads of Pantone-inspired items courtesy of the fast-growing “Pantone Universe“.

The universe expands

The Pantone Universe – as one would expect by the name – is a full-fledged cosmos comprised of products from the Pantone brand.

In addition to clothing, accessories, electronics and housewares, the Pantone Universe also includes the Pantone Hotel, which is as brand-infused as you’d imagine. (Incidentally, if you happen to be headed to Brussels and book far enough in advance, you can stay the night for under 100 Euro.)

Then, of course there’s Pantone’s newly introduced line of cosmetics. Partnering with Sephora, the Pantone Universe is banking on the lure of its booming brand – as well as its colour of the year, Tangerine Tango – to entice cosmetics buyers to open their wallets.

Zero to hero
I don’t know about Tangerine Tango, but I’m okay with just my Pantone mugs for now. I don’t really need a whole universe.

But my thoughts are mixed about whether or not it’s a good thing that this universe even exists. In one respect, it’s amazing to the see the complete transformation of a brand from zero to hero. In another, I do hope it keeps its roots intact and holds strong to the goals on which it began.

Either way, no one knows how far the universe reaches. But as long as the Pantone entity remains true and authentic, the sky’s the limit.

What are your thoughts on the rise of Pantone?

Lindsay Sleightholm

Author: Lindsay Sleightholm

Lindsay Sleightholm dares to take risks that lend strength to her design in whatever medium she is working. Her conceptual thinking adds to her nimbleness and her innate sense of brand. With over 13 solid years of experience in design and production of print-ready, digital and interactive creative, Lindsay is an intrinsic part of the creative process from conception to delivery.

Comments ( 3 )

  • Miriam Hara

    This is a great case study in a niche product, maintaining its niche…but widening its market and thus exploiting a bigger market opportunity. Very similar to classic case of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda showcasing different uses of its product. I like the fact that Pantone did go mainstream. With the buzz going on about Personal Brand, Pantone has made it easier for individuals and companies to use colour as a brand identifier.I just received a Pantone Violet Notebook! It’s a great way to add to the 3H Brand… and it always elicits a nice reaction or comment.

  • Nice synopsis – I will add some thoughts:

    1. Not ALL Pantone spot colors are outside of CMYK spectrum but many are. Fluorescent colors are outside, many blues are too. But, not all. There are Pantone color books which give “matching” CMYK colors if they apply (they don’t always.)

    2. There was a day when process color was really expensive, so spot colors (pantone colors) were a way to get color at a lower cost. It is not able to reproduce photos of things at all, however. Only process color can reproduce photos of things that look proper to the viewer. Process color is not the only color printing technique but it is 99% of the market for printing color photos of things. There is six color printing for photos which is richer than CYMK but so far outside of the mainstream that few printers will attempt it. It is very hard to produce “match prints” and only a real-pro pressman would be able to do it. I think I remember that it is called hexacolor.

    3. Nowadays printing 1, 2 or 3 spot colors happens but seldom as process color is no longer expensive and is far more flexible in most situations. Truly fussy logo colors often demand spot color/pantone inks but people who are not fussy can go with approximate matching using CMYK for their logo and give up “exactly THAT color” for logos, etc. This is a matter of personal preference. BUT, if you are printing process color anyway, then adding spot colors increases the cost and can run afoul of spot color’s not crossing over into process colors as the result is not predictable. (A, say, blue spot color band impinging on a photo of a piece of apple pie.) And spot colors increase the trapping issues in most instances.

    4. And then add to the mix Websites/Internet colors and they do not “play ball” with Pantone at all. Just to make things interesting.

    • Lindsay Sleightholm

      Hi David, thanks for shakin’ things up!

      Yes, some CMYK colo(u)rs are within the Pantone gamut, but as you know, a loop will reveal the difference between the two formulas. Thus, it is not a complete reproduction. However, the delta-e is lower than what we can see – so in those cases, it is within our visual spectrum :)

      Thank goodness for Color Bridge! However, I agree that these conversions are not always the best matches.

      As much as designers love colour, colour conversion will drive us mad! :) I do like where colour reproduction is going though… mainstream perhaps?

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