CMYK colours and Pantone logo

CMYK vs. Pantone® in solid colour printing

What is the difference between CMYK and Pantone® (PMS) when using solid colours in flexographic printing?

Here at The Polythene Company we’re experts in polythene and flexographic printing. We print and manufacture on site in our UK factory so we understand all the terms, but we also understand that not all our customers do so we wanted to shed some light on one of the most common queries. When discussing custom printed mailing bags, you may find you’re often asked if the colours for your custom print mailing bags are CMYK (also known as 4 colour process) or Pantone®/ PMS (sometimes referred to as a spot colour). To designers and printers, like ourselves, these terms are common knowledge, but to a business owner who wants to design a bespoke printed mailing bag this question may lead to confusion.

What does CMYK and PMS stand for?

PMS stands for Pantone® Matching System, a standardized colour matching system used primarily in printing but also throughout a variety of industries. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black; these are the primary colours for print. The confusion usually stems from what we’re taught at school regarding primary colours; yellow and blue make green, yellow and red make orange and so on. However, in the flexographic printing industry the varying the quantities of cyan, magenta, yellow and black are what we use to create an endless array of colours to print.

Why choose a Pantone® colour?

There are many times when CMYK is the only way to produce your image, such as photos and gradient graphics, but we’re just discussing the use of colour for what we refer to as solid colours. There can be so much variation in colour using CMYK for a solid colour that Pantone® set out to create a system that allowed for consistent colour. This way a designer can create a logo that will print consistently from job to job and printer to printer. Pantone® colours are also easy to convert into RGB and Hex colour values, so you can even keep your colour consistent across websites and digital designs etc.

If you’re using PMS then you will be asked for the pantone reference number, at The Polythene Company we deal with the coated Pantone® references only (there are a variety of different Pantone® series for different materials). We use this system ourselves for our own brand colour on our printed polythene mailing bags, as well as across the board on all branded items, meaning we can guarantee consistency throughout our branding and save on cost!

Here is an example using our Polythene Company branded purple which is 2602c:

Purple CMYK colour breakdown
Coated Pantone® Purple 2602 chip     Pantone® chip of our company colour.

To print the above purple we would need to break it down into four different colours which can be expensive, but as it’s a PMS colour we can buy the Pantone ink already mixed. The Pantone® system means we can generate the exact same colour time after time! It also means that it’s made up of one colour component as opposed to potentially four so it will only require one printing plate per solid “spot” colour as it’s done in a single run as opposed to multiple runs to mix the colours. We know that cost is a key factor in all bespoke mailing bag purchases so it’s even better to have a cost-effective choice that guarantees a high quality, and more importantly, reliable finish.

Comparing equivalent colours of CMYK and PMS:

Another question we’re often asked is what happens when you convert a PMS colour to CMYK. This image below shows how much density you lose in converting from a Pantone® colour to CMYK:

Pantone® and CMYK colour comparisonPantone® and CMYK colour comparison

As we print in house on our flexographic printer we work with PMS colours on a regular basis so we know that these colours offer a tonal range that CMYK can’t. You may have dealt with CMYK previously and want to convert the other way, if so this not a problem as we have swatch books that allow us to find the PMS value for any type of CMYK work you have done in the past.

If you have any other questions regarding bespoke printing and custom mailing bags, then please don’t hesitate to contact our experienced sales team who can help you every step of the way!