Four-color or Pantone colors?

The announcement of the color of the year according to Pantone gives us the opportunity to compare this system of color management with the four-color process, which in print reproduces it (for approximation) through the combination of four inks.

Right on time, even for this 2022, which is just around the corner, Pantone has decreed which will be the guiding color that for the next twelve months we will have to get used to seeing a bit 'everywhere: in fashion and interior design, in wearable technology and graphics. The Pantone color of the year is a much awaited appointment, which for 20 years inevitably ends up influencing the development of products belonging to various sectors, thus affecting our purchasing behavior.

An arduous choice, which comes after an in-depth analysis of current trends. Every year, in fact, the experts of the Pantone Color Institute scan every corner of the globe and every field of human activity to capture those signals that will influence the use of color. In addition to the worlds of entertainment, fashion, design and art, they examine lifestyles and tourist destinations, the sphere of play and socio-economic conditions; not even the latest technologies and new materials, textures and graphic effects that have an impact on color, from social networks to major sporting events, escape analysis.

The year 2020 saw the success of a particular shade of blue, reminiscent of the sky at dusk; 2021, a combination of yellow and gray, defined as "concrete and solid but at the same time warm and optimistic".

The Pantone color just crowned is Very Peri, a shade of blue that tends to purple, enriched by a hint of red; a choice "lively and joyful, encouraging imagination and a creativity capable of daring". Mixing the calm of blue and the energy of red, Very Peri is a particularly warm and innovative shade. "With the creation of this new color," says Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, "we are accurately reflecting the innovation and global transformation taking place. As society continues to recognize color as a fundamental form of communication and way of expression, of influencing and creating ideas and emotions, of engagement and connection, the complexity of this new blue hue infused with red-purple highlights the boundless possibilities that lie before us." Given the premise, Very Peri seems like the right color to restart after two difficult years in so many ways.

But let's get down to business. Let's say the time has come to send a file to print: what influences the choice between Pantone colors and simple four-color process?

Let's clarify. Four-color printing is based on four colors: cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y) and black (K), for simplicity condensed into the abbreviation CMYK. These colors are mixed together to produce a wide range of secondary colors. In this way, over 70% of the colors perceived by the human eye can be transferred to print. This is a color system that derives from subtractive synthesis: each object hit by light absorbs only certain wavelengths and reflects the others; its color (or rather: the color it reflects) is the result of subtraction from the light spectrum of the frequencies absorbed by the pigment layer.

Pantone colors take their name from the American company that, around the 1950s, invented the Pantone color system that has become the international reference for color management in industry and, now, also in graphic design. Printing based on Pantone colors requires specific ink mixtures, thanks to which it is possible to faithfully recreate a given color. With this system, it's possible to reproduce colors that four-color printing typically doesn't, including gold and silver, fluorescent and metallic colors. Because it uses pre-determined and specially combined colors, Pantone printing is also more vivid.

A Pantone color is essentially a "flat color": it is not obtained through the subtractive formula of the CMYK method, but consists of a pre-mixed, paste-colored ink that conforms to a given hue that can be found in a catalog.

Because of this characteristic, Pantone colors present a great advantage when it comes to printing coordinated image elements (above all the logo) that have well-defined and always the same institutional colors. That is, they cannot and must not undergo variations in tone due, for example, to different press settings between different print runs or between different printing companies. Because if grey has at least 50 shades, imagine blue.