The Ultimate Guide to Colour Systems for Print Marketing

Wed Jun , 2019

In print marketing, the importance of colour cannot be understated. Ask any printing company or designing expert, and they will tell you how a brightly coloured printed material makes all the difference in your brand promotion. Colours are a key element in your branding, as they allow for the building a personal connection with your consumers. With digital printing becoming more advanced with each passing time, there has been a lot of use of different colour formats. A colour model can be helpful in this regard for making a colour gamut from a set of primary colours.

The Ultimate Guide to Colour Systems for Print Marketing

Different Colour Models

The printing industry deals with a lot of different colour terms which can be confusing. These terms, such as RGB, RAL, HEC, CMYK, and RAL are few of the popular colour system prevalent in a print job. Each of these has its unique features and uses. For example, CMYK is most popular for printing, while RGB is a better choice for web printing. Pantone colour scheme is used for calibration and RAL is for powder coating and plastics. These colour systems are essential for achieving consistency in the design of your product on printed materials and digital platforms alike.

Need for Different Color Systems

If you want all your marketing materials to appear sharp and consistent across all platforms, whether print, web or production, then you cannot ignore the importance of colour. Using the right combination of colour is essential for multiple purposes, whether it is for creating a strong message for your clientele, connecting with them, or improving your overall brand image.

Colours appear completely different across print and digitally. In fact, they can even look distinct on two separate screens. That is why in the world of print and design, there is a need for different colour systems. Knowing about them will help you choose the most suitable option for the design you want and help you create the exact replica of your vision.

A List of Different Colour Systems

Below is a list of the different colour systems widely used for print and design.

1. RGB

RGB or the Red Green Blue system, also known as the standard RGB, is the colour system used for computer monitors, video and digital platforms. While CMYK and PMS (Pantone Matching System) are for the printed media, RGB is for web and computer applications.  This particular combination of colour uses the red, green and blue light in degrees ranging from 0 to 255.

Web Safe or Browser Safe colour palettes are just a subset of 216 RBG colours that can accurately display on the monitor, even if it has a limited colour spectrum. Of course, most computers these days come with a higher resolution and better video cards for providing a much better view, but still, this colour system is most preferred by a lot of web designs.

However, being “safe” does not ensure that the colour will appear the same in different monitors. The brightness of the screen, lighting, and the hue and contrast settings will play a role in how the colour is rendered on the screen.


RGBA is similar to the RGB colour scheme. This three-channel RGB colour model along with a 4th alpha channel is often referred to as the colour space. Despite the similarity, it adds about 0 to 100% transparency to a colour. For the web industry, this model happens to be a popular choice.

3. HEX

Even though there is a CSS syntax for defining the RGB colours, developers prefer a HE code since it is the shorter and easier version. In this code, the 0-255 series is replaced by a six-digit combination of letters (A-F) and numbers (0-9). The colours used for displaying web pages on the World Wide Web are either specified as RGB triplet or in hexadecimal format or HEX triplet. Hexadecimal colour codes are usually specified with a (#) sign. The colours are denoted according to the intensity of red, green and blue elements, with each being represented by eight bits.


The CMYK colours represent all the four colours that are applied during the printing process; namely Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. Unlike the RGB colour model, which is an additive colour system, the CMYK is a subtractive colour system. What does that mean in simple words?  It means that to obtain lighter colours, ink is needed to be removed. The primary goal of the CMYK system is to use ink for absorbing the reflected light on the printer paper. In contrast, this also means that when all the light is absorbed, it will appear black. This model is applicable for printed media, like magazines.

Pro Tip

Since in the printing process, ink is used instead of light, CMYK gives a less vibrant output than RGB.

5. PMS

The Pantone Matching System or PMS was invented to provide a standard for the colour processing.  Most printers use this model for replicating tones and graphics. The system provides a guideline to make sure that any manufacturer can match on print despite referring any colour. In the printing world, it is known as the standard language for colour communication.

Unlike CMYK, Pantone does not need a combination of different colours and can operate as singular units. The majority of colours in this system are produced using a thirteen-base pigment, with each unique colour labelled via a number to help distinguish them. At the moment, the Pantone colour palette consists of more than 1800 different colours though. The numeric system makes it easier to accurately match the colour and therefore, make it more appropriate than any other colour system.

When you approach a printing company for a project, it helps to have an easy guideline ready for how you want your logo or brand to be used and which colour should be more prominent. You also need to decide how it will appear across different platforms since digital design and digital printing is quickly catching up with the traditional methods. And until there is a way to sync all the colour of your brand across every possible platform, it is helpful to know about these different colour schemes.