Why the Right Colour System Is Crucial for Packaging

As colours are the language of packaging it is very important for brands to choose the right ones. This article examines how the colour space PMS might help with this decision, and which advantages it brings along.

For packaging, colour is like a language. It is a quick and efficient way to communicate with costumers and to give them a preview of the product inside. As consumers perceive colours much faster than shapes or information on the packaging, they also find and choose products first and foremost by colours. So it is not surprising that printing plays an important role in the packaging industry and special inks based on special colour systems are increasingly entering the market. After all they help brands in creating packaging that stands out in the shelf. We present you a colour system every packaging manufacturer should know about.

The Difference Between CMYK and PMS

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black – the primary colours for print. As we all learned in school, yellow and blue make green, and yellow and red make orange. In the printing universe varying cyan, magenta, yellow and black creates an endless array of colours. The Pantone Matching System (PMS) instead, uses standardized colours. It is a proprietary colour space, and used in a variety of industries. The main advantage of this system is that each colour is depicted always the same, for every manufacturers worldwide.

The Benefits of PMS for Packaging

The main problem with CMYK-based inks is that the colours will change from one print run to another. Of course, sometimes this inconsistency is just slightly noticeable, especially for untrained eyes, but often it is very easy to see. Therefore the change of colour can affect the experience and perception of the brand. For instance, consumers are likely to interpret the colour differences as a mark that the product has been on the shelf for a long time and gotten discoloured by age. Another issue with CMYK is the difficulty to get bright and sharp colours. As the brightness of colours is very important for packaging design to communicate attributes like freshness, energy, vitality or strength, this is a major problem. In comparison to PMS colours, CMYK colours often appear a little bit dull. The third issue with CMYK is the knockout phase, as a PMS colour just needs one printing plate and a CMYK colour needs four plates. So when printing on packaging with a good amount of “knocking out”, in CMYK every colour must be perfectly registered to the others. The PMS colour runs only on one plate and is therefore more controllable.

Although all in all PMS allows more control and better quality when printing packaging design, it can be more expensive than using CMYK. Additionally, there are still some areas where you have to use CMYK, for example for photography where you always need four colours.

But to generally say which colour system is better is much too sweeping a statement. This always depends on the specific resources and requirements.

How about you: Which inks and colour systems do you prefer and why? Do you see other advantages of the different colour systems? Leave us a comment below.