X38 // Design Elements // Color Fundamentals
Color Systems
How color is created depends on where it will be seen and how a com-
munications piece will be produced. RGB, CMYK, and Pantone are three
of the most commonly used color systems in design, but they are not the
only ones in existence. In some countries, other matching systems such
as TOYO, ANPA, or DIC may be used. Fortunately, software programs
like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign all include numerous color
profiles and systems in their swatch libraries.
WThis poster highlights the benefits of using a
multicolored palette as a design element in and of
itself. Since this poster would be printed, CMYK
is the best color system to use.
Design: Katsui Design Office, Tokyo
Chapter 1 // Communicating with Color //39
CMYK is a four-color subtractive
process, which includes the colors
cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.
The process is considered to be
“subtractive” because the inks that
are used for printing subtract, or
mask, the background (which is
usually the white of the paper) using
a halftone dot pattern. Colors are
produced by combining CMYK ink
colors and partially, or fully, printing
them on a white background. CMYK
is used in offset lithography, and
in most cases, a designer will be
required to change all graphics and
imagery to CMYK before sending
files to a printer.
Standardized SWOP guides are
used in the United States, Europe,
and Asia. They show the percentage
of CMYK values that are needed
to create a particular hue to ensure
that the colors specified will match
the finished print product. How color
appears on print media will also
be determined by the paper stock
(whether it is coated, uncoated, or
matte), and whether a varnish or
aqueous coating has been applied
over the ink.
SThis image has been separated into distinct channels of each CMYK
color. Printers sometimes maximize the amount of black in the separation
process as a way to save ink. In such cases, the black plate will be more
saturated than in this example.
X40 // Design Elements // Color Fundamentals
Pantone is a proprietary color
system that allows printers and
designers to accurately commu-
nicate and produce specific color
choices. The Pantone Matching
System allows a designer to se-
lect and specify a particular Pan-
tone color that will be matched
exactly by the ink used by a
commercial printer. The Pantone
Formula Guide is a three-guide
set consisting of 1,114 solid Pan-
tone colors, which can be used
on coated, uncoated, and matte
stock. The guide is extremely
popular and is used by the de-
signer to specify the color and by
the printer to create the corre-
sponding ink formulas needed to
produce each color on a specific
type of paper.
SSpecifying a Pantone color will ensure that print materials,
like these, are all produced using exactly the same color
orange. Design: Suunnittelutoimisto BOTH, Helsinki, Finland
SBright colors and lively shapes combined with
simple white type create a vibrant composition.
Design: Sebastian Guerrini, La Plata, Argentina
Chapter 1 // Communicating with Color //41
WGreen is commonly associated with the
environmental movement and organic or otherwise
healthy products. This website for the Organic
World Foundation uses green as a component in
the design but also incorporates rich orange, yel-
low, and blue tones, which add value and original-
ity. Design: Sebastian Guerrini, La Plata, Argentina
RGB is an additive color system
that uses the base colors red,
green, and blue to produce a wide
variety of colors. In the RGB palette,
white is the additive combination of
all the primary colors and black is
produced by the absence of light.
Screen- and display-based design
uses the RGB color system and
even some large-format printers use
RGB-based color interpretation sys-
tems or profiles that will then print
with CMYK ink. TV’s video screens,
monitors, mobile devices, and cam-
eras all use the RGB system.

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