…As in the PANTONE® MATCHING SYSTEM®. Yeah, that’s an unfortunate acronym (and an excess of copyright symbols), but you can blame the fine folks at Pantone for that. So what’s PMS, and why should you use it? Let’s first take a quick sepia-toned (477 C) trek through history…
Old timey printers who didn’t use Pantone. Amateurs.
Pantone was originally a struggling commercial printing company in the 50s. Deep in the red (179 C) by 1962, they were fortunate to have a golden (7548 C) goose in the form of recent Hofstra graduate Lawrence Herbert. Herbert was a young chemist running the ink and printing division, the sole profitable division within the company. He bought Pantone and refined his color management system into the Pantone Matching System we know and love today.
Those are some nasty looking colors. Should have chewed Pantone Gum.
So why is PMS so important? Well, let’s take a look at a world in which Lawrence Herbert never existed, shall we? Say you pick a random shade of light green (?) for your shirt design. You pass the design to an art director who views it on a monitor that makes it look more yellow (?) than you intended. They’re not sure if it will look good on the shirt color you chose, but have no way to verify it. The art director then hands it off to a printer in another state. The printer has to put what he or she sees on their monitor onto an actual shirt. Three people seeing three different colors, trying to make the jump from digital to cotton while keeping the artist’s vision intact. Come back Lawrence Herbert!
That’s more like it.
Now let’s try it again with some full-fledged Pantone action. This time you choose an exact shade of Pistachio (577 C) among the 1341 available colors. You flip through your PMS Formula guide to see what it will look like in print. The art director gets your design and verifies that it looks great on the shirt using their own PMS Formula Guide. They pass on the PMS number to the printer who knows the exact mix of ink to use (Yellow 18.70, Ref. Blue 3.10, Trans.Wt. 75.00) to recreate it. Now you can rest assured that the green in your hilarious “Key Lime Pi” design will be viewed as you envisioned it, all creamy and infinite like.
The best part about choosing PMS colors? If you’re using Photoshop or Illustrator, it’s pretty easy to do…
1. Select the color box at the bottom of the Tools window to bring up the Color Picker.
2. Click the Color Libraries button and under the Book menu select “Pantone Solid Coated”
3. Switch to the color picker and choose a color. When you jump back to the Pantone Library it will automatically choose the nearest Pantone that matches that color.
1. Go to Window> Swatch Libraries>Color Books>Pantone Solid Coated.
2. The Pantone library will be loaded in its own window for easy browsing and selecting.
3. Choosing a random color and getting its closest Pantone equivalent after the fact is a little trickier in Illustrator. This is a great tutorial on how to pull it off.
Now, this is by no means a perfect system. We’ve found that you can do a side-by-side comparison of the same Pantone Swatch in Photoshop and Illustrator and see two slightly different colors. We think Photoshop is the more accurate of the two, but even it struggles with certain color ranges, such as blue (285 C) and green (7724 C).
It’s also important to remember that, while you are choosing Pantone colors on your computer, the colors you are seeing are technically not Pantone—they’re your monitor’s interpretation of Pantone. To fully make use of the Pantone Matching System as an t-shirt designer you need to scoop up the same PMS Formula Guide we use here at the Woot
dungeons studios. Yep, they’re a little pricey, and they get updated yearly. Big Color’s got us all by the… well you know. Fortunately you can find some used formula guides on eBay.
So what are you waiting for? Get PMS like us! Not only will it help you design like a pro, your friends and colleagues will be left green (354C) with envy. OK, so that one was pretty lame, but admit it; you’re all excited about Lawrence Herbert now, aren’t you?
Photos (top to bottom):
Men with printing press, circa 1930s by Flickr User Seatlle Municipal Archives
Gross gum! by Flickr user paulbalcerak
Pantone formula guide by Flickr user jepoirrier