Pantone coated vs. uncoated

Written by markg
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Pantone coated vs. uncoated
Color matching systems ensure consistency in printing. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Raj)

To ensure consistency of ink colours, regardless of which company makes the ink or which printer produces the final printed product, the printing industry has created a number of printing ink colour matching systems. Perhaps the most common colour matching system in the printing industry is the Pantone matching system.

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Color Ink

Unlike a computer monitor which creates colour by combining blue, green and red light (the additive colour system), printing presses create colours through the subtractive colour system. This system uses transparent inks of cyan, magenta and yellow to filter white light that reflects off the printing surface. Combinations of the subtractive colours create the primary colours that are perceived by our eyes.

Pantone coated vs. uncoated
Colors are made of reflected and absorbed light. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Doug Wheller)

Color Matching

Color matching systems allow a designer and printer to use a unique description for each colour in a project so that they both know they are speaking about the same exact hue. Printers and designers use books of ink swatches to choose the colour inks they want to use in a project. Each swatch has a specific identification number. The first matching system was created by an international organisation in 1931, using light wavelengths. The CIE 1931 Color Space was designed for scientific use, rather than for printing. Soon after the CIE 1931 system was designed, printers began developing their own colour matching systems.

Pantone coated vs. uncoated
The first colour matching system was based on light wavelengths. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of candace)

Pantone System

The Pantone matching system identifies a particular colour with a numerical code guaranteeing that the graphic artist and the printer are referring to the identical ink colour. For example, it would not do for the designer to tell the printer that the ink colour for the American flag should be red, white and blue because what one person perceives as blue is probably different from what someone else thinks it is. Instead of describing the desired colour as "blue," the designer can tell the printer to use Pantone 282 (blue) and Pantone 193 (red) and know exactly what the flag will look like. Pantone colour swatches are usually abbreviated as PMS 282, PMS 193, etc.

Pantone coated vs. uncoated
This is an example of a Pantone colour chip. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of David Bleasdale)

Mixing Ink

Making PMS 282 and PMS 193 involves mixing various combinations of cyan, yellow, and magenta inks. By using the Pantone colour matching system, the printer and the graphic artist know that the printer will mix 100 parts of cyan ink; 72 parts of magenta ink; 0 parts of yellow; and 56 parts of black ink to make Pantone 282. Because all CMYK inks are identical, any printer in the world can look up the Pantone mixture and get an exact colour match.

Ink and Paper

For the purpose of understanding how ink and paper interact and why a colour matching system is important, the only part of the papermaking process we need to look at is the final step, which is called "calendaring." This process compacts and smooths the paper before it is wound onto rolls. At this point, the paper is either coated or left uncoated, which affects the white paper reflects white light and thus how the Pantone system mixes the CMYK inks. A Pantone colour for uncoated stock may require more or less of a particular ink. If the graphic designer wants to use coated paper stock to display an American flag, she will indicate to the printer that he should use the PMS 282C and PMS 193C mixtures.

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