Design Guide | Color #04

October 22, 2012

CMYK, PMS, RGB… Oh, brother. Today I’m going over all the tricky color terms a designer uses day in & day out. These definitions are crucial for a practicing designer to know & helpful for clients working with a designer to learn. And since so many of us are visual people, why not add images to help us all easily remember the terms? Now, keep in mind, I’m not going into the nitty gritty details of these topics. Just a simple guide to reference when you or your client needs a color lesson. And don’t miss Emma & I’s top online color resources at the bottom of this post! Thanks for your support & enjoy the tips. –Chelsea


CMYK / An acronym for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (AKA process color and four color). When printing a project with many colors, like a photographic based project, CMYK is a common color model printers use. These four colors combined in print, make any color combination under the sun. Fun fact! Mixing just CMY is theoretically supposed to create black but instead, it only creates a dark muddy color. So, they added black to the three color combo.

Spot Color / A single ink color used in print. If you’re printing a job with say 1 to 3 colors, you would choose the Pantone (see below) spot colors and specify them to your printer. Emma and I both used spot colors to print our brand materials, seen here.

PMS / An acronym for Pantone Matching System (AKA Pantone). Pantone is a company that created the most popular spot color system in the world. You can buy Pantone books right here. In addition to basic color books, they also have metallic, fluorescent and pastel color books, which are colors that can only be created using a spot color.

If you’re not ready to invest in Pantone color books (they’re pricey), you can pick up paint swatches from Home Depot and have your printer match a color based off those samples. When working on a print based project, it’s good for you and client to both have a record of the spot PMS colors chosen for each color used for the project. Fun Fact! In 2000, Pantone started picking a Color of the Year. Check out those colors here.


RGB / An acronym for Red, Green and Blue. Together, these three colors make up every color you see on a display device, like a computer, tv or phone. Each of the colors has a number between 0 and 255. Example: R=255 / G=0 / B=0 is pure red. R=0 / G=0 / B=0 is black. R=255 / G=255 / B=255 is black.

HEX Number / (Stands for Hexidecimal Color) This six digit number represents a color used for anything on the web. Example: #FF0000 is pure red. #000000 is black. #FFFFFF is white. You’ll often see an option to type in your own HEX number while customizing a blog or twitter.

And just as you want to record Pworking on a web based project, it’s good for you and client to both have a record of the RGB mixes and HEX numbers for each color used on the site. Also, if you have an RGB mix and want to find out the HEX Number of that color, click here to use a ‘color calculator’ we found.


Some of our Favorites /
Cubicle Refugee
Colour Lovers
Palettes by Creature Comforts
Color Collective
Pugly Pixel


Do you have a favorite color resource or tip?
Be sure to tell us about it in the comments section below. Emma and I would love to hear about it!
And be sure to check back in two weeks for our next Design Guide topic… PAPER!!

TAGS : Design, Design Guide, Inspiration


October 22nd 2012

OK, i want to give you a BIGGG hug and thank you for doing this. I just started at parsons in gd {remember I asked advice ages ago about graphic design school – bit the bullet and enrolled! yay!}. Except in one class the other day the teacher was talking and went “you should be familiar with color theory for this” and kept moving on. i was like…wait, what?! and googling it kinda of brought up a lot. it’s so nice to see it here so clear and SUCCINCT and actually in some kind of use here with resources for me. i cannot wait for the next topic. a million thank yous guys!


October 22nd 2012

Another awesome reference, ladies! I’ve been a fan of Color Collective for a while but enjoyed catching up on the other sources you listed.

As it happens, I published my own “color study” post today using a corner of Joslyn Taylor’s living room!


replied on October 22nd, 2012 at 9:30 PM


glad you’re enjoying the series! And nice to see your new color post from today. great palette!

Thanks for sharing

October 22nd 2012


Oh GOOD!!! I am so glad this helped + Have you read the past color ones as well? If not, click on the DESIGN GUIDE “tag’ at the end of this post and it will bring them all up.

We are moving on to printing & paper next!!


October 24th 2012

Another great resource for color inspiration that I use constantly- design seeds!


October 24th 2012

thanks for the color inspiration! is great, too! they have an extension for photoshop so you can easily add color palettes to your swatches.


October 24th 2012

Loving all of your design guides!! :)


[...] • If you’re itching to learn the difference between CMYK, RGB and PMS, Chelsea and Emma break it all down for you in this week’s Design Guide. [...]

October 25th 2012

Ah, this will be a good page to refer people to.

“R=255 / G=255 / B=255 is black.”
… Is white.


[...] color on paper vs. color on screen. [...]

November 9th 2012

I love create color palettes! it was my favorite part when I was studying fashion, then I decided to create a categorie on my journal where I could INCORPORATE this TECHNIQUE

feel free to check it out if you want

anyway thanks for the links !