“I like red, I like this red, my brand is red. I’d like to print this colour red.”

Sounds easy enough, but oh no no no don’t be fooled, this is way more difficult than one would imagine.

To start with let’s assume that we have an actual Pantone® reference. A Pantone® number is a worldwide standard for specifying and mixing colours for consistency in the printing industry. But what type of number is it referencing: a spot colour or CMYK number? In this case we will say a spot colour number.

With a spot colour number a printer will follow a formula to mix inks to make the correct colour – should be straightforward now given that it is mixed accordingly, except that it isn’t.

What we as designers need to know is if the ink is to be used on a coated (shiny paper that ink sits on) or uncoated (matt paper, like letterhead or newspaper where ink tends to soak in) stock because the outcome will be vastly different. The variances in whiteness and brightness of a stock can have a dramatic effect on the printed colour also.

In fact, in most cases the same ink printed on a coated stock will look like a completely different colour printed on an uncoated stock.

To compensate for this we will often choose a Pantone® number for a coated stock and a completely different Pantone® number for an uncoated stock, the end result being a colour as close as practical when placed side by side.

The most common method of printing colour is using CMYK inks. This is used in jobs that require many colours such as a magazine or photo. With this method the colour is made not from one mixed ink, but by a printer applying tiny dots of the 4 inks which are: Cyan; Magenta; Yellow and Black.

As with a spot colour, the same CMYK colour will look different on different stocks. Other variables include what type of print technique is being used: offset print; digital print; ink jet; laser (which uses toner instead of ink); size and type of ink dot being applied to the paper; pressure of ink and ink weight, even the brand of ink.

Printing the colour onto paper is only one aspect, matching the colour of your brand across many materials from screenprint; vinyl; paint or various devices from desktops to mobile is another minefield.