Artwork and Print

Can’t tell your PMS, CMYK, RGB and HEX colour profiles apart?

Matt Cox
March 10, 2020
Artwork and Print

Pantone – 7599C
CMYK – 24/90/93/17
RGB – 40/48/39
HEX – #a93120

Looks like a lot of random numbers and letters? When input into the correct format, these codes become Stable Design Red, our main company colour since 1982. Want to read more about our colour choices? Check out Stable’s colour story in Our Colours Explained.

Keeping colours consistent is far more complicated than it at first appears. With visual communication now reaching around the globe on multiple platforms, both digital and printed, it is vital that you keep your colours consistent with the right colour profile.

What are the different colour profiles?

The main four are PMS, CMYK, RGB and HEX.

Anyone who works on a computer will have seen these terms used to describe colour types. Many people don’t understand what they are, how they’re used and what is the difference is between them.

The biggest difference is whether the colour is in print or on-screen.

Often people who design something onscreen in RGB will be disappointed when their finished printed piece is less vibrant than expected. Since RGB colours are illuminated by a screen, they will appear more vibrant. There is also a larger range of colours onscreen than could ever be absolutely replicated on the printed page.

It’s important to understand that the digital and print mediums depict colours very differently from one another. You don’t use PMS colours on a website just like you don’t use RGB colours on a printing press. They just won’t work.

Simply put: PMS and CMYK are for print. RGB and HEX are for onscreen.

Breakdown of the main colour profiles

PMS (Pantone® Matching System)

Around since the 1950s, Pantone wrote the book on colour types and created an industry-wide standard. Even now, Pantone’s Colour of the Year is eagerly awaited by creatives of many kinds. A Pantone ink is one solid colour throughout, whereas a CMYK colour is a pattern of dots that overlap to make the final colour.

CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black)

CMYK colour (also called the four-colour process) is a combination of tiny transparent dots of four ink colours: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Different combinations of large and small CMYK transparent dots overlap each other to create a wide spectrum of colours.

RGB (Red, Green, Blue)

The most commonly used colour profile is for the digital world of computers, TV screens and mobile devices. RGB is the process by which colours are depicted onscreen by using different combinations of only red, green and blue.

HEX (Hexadecimal Colour)

Digital designers and developers usually use HEX colours in web design. A HEX colour is expressed as a six-digit combination of numbers and letters defined by its mix of red, green and blue (RGB). Essentially, a HEX colour code is shorthand for an RGB value.

Convert Colour Profiles

You shouldn’t need to worry about converting any colour profiles. Professional designers and printers will have conversion tools in the graphic programmes they use, like InDesign or Photoshop.

Any professionals you work with will be aware that colours may change from digital to print output. They will let you know the colours may vary slightly, depending on what paper type or quality.

How can I remember all this?

Don’t worry! Download our handy PDF here.

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Matt Cox - Graphic Designer

Matt Cox

With his fondness of clear-cut design and sharp details, Matt has an eye for creative design.

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