CMYK, PMS, and RGB, … wait, what?

Understanding the colour formats.

CMYK, RGB and PMS (or Pantone) are three abbreviations for different types of colour formats used in different applications. We’re going to take a look at what these abbreviations mean and how you can use them.

For example: Most of the time when we design a logo, we will supply you with different sizes, file types and colour formats to use for a range of media.  Let’s focus on the colour formats:


These letters stand for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black; four colours used in printing. We most commonly refer to this as a “print” format. Overlapping tiny, minute dots of ink creates other colours e.g. purple or orange. Due to the different processes of printers, slight colour variations in the printed result can occur.

CMYK is great for: Anything print - print advertising, signs, and photos.

PMS or Pantone:

Stands for Pantone Matching System, which is also commonly known as “Spot Colour”.  These are custom inks created by the Pantone Corporation and are recognized worldwide among many industries. PMS can also achieve special colours like metallic’s, fluorescent and pastel colours that you could not normally achieve with regular CMYK printing. As a controlled ink system, PMS is excellent for printing the exact colour across a variety of printed media, ensuring colour consistency.

PMS (Pantone) is great for: Print production, screen-printing, and signs. However, printing in PMS can be pricey due to specific ink colours.

CMYK and PMS (Pantone) colours are inks on paper that absorb light.


Represents Red, Green and Blue; the digital colours you see when you look at a computer screen, TV, camera or even you mobile phone. We most commonly refer to this as a “screen” format. These colours are a source of light that we see, resulting in brighter looking colours than printed.

RGB is great for: Anything digital – computers, TV, mobile phones, websites.

RGB colours involves light emitted from a source; additive colours that when combined, create what we perceive as white.

Why does my printed flyer look different to the proof on my computer?

Due to the different colour standards – CMYK and PMS (ink) vs. RGB(light) – colour will appear different on you computer screen that what they will when printed on paper.

We convert everything from print to RGB for you when we provide a file, eg. a logo.
All you need to know is where you are going to use it:
On screen = RGB (for websites, email, Powerpoint etc)
Printed = CMYK or PMS (for printing flyers, signs, etc).

Let’s face it – we all want to look good!

To summarise, CMYK, PMS and RGB are three different types of colour standards we use in the design and print industry. Using these variations ensure that your branding looks good across all media – keeping colours consistent and accurate.