pantone colour usage

Back to Basics: Understanding the Colour Wheel

Although it may often be overlooked, the colour wheel is still one of the most valuable tools for graphic designers. Understanding how it all works will undoubtedly make your life easier in the long run. Hopefully this article will provide a guiding hand for colour matching and if used properly, it will speed up your design process.


Our designer always have a pantone colour chart handy at all times.


Wheels and Pantones

As mentioned, the colour wheel is a graphic design tool and a tool commonly used for painters, that helps designers and painters create the perfect colour complement for their masterpieces. Many will have one handy and others will just use the one integrated in Photoshop. When it comes to printing and screen printing, you do need to have an exact match with your colours or you’re not have a quality product in the end.

Another name that some designer may use if they design for print is a Pantone Colour Chart, which is what we use. A pantone chart is common in the printing industry as printing machines generally take CMYK ink cartridges. PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM® is a company that provides a PMS numbering chart for colour matching.


The colours

Red, blue and yellow are your three primary colours. When you mix these colours, you create the secondary colours of green, orange and purple. If you further combine the secondary colours with the neighboring primary colours, you end up with 6 tertiary colours. These colours are yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-purple, red-purple, and red-orange.

On a computer, most people that work within Photoshop will use a RGB system which is Red, Green and Blue. This is great for web images because RGB is the light emitted from a computer monitor. This will allow you to gain bright colours, but for print you will never match those bright colours, which leads me to print colours.

CMYK  is Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. In screen printing we don’t print colour into film, we need to separate the colours and print each colour using black, which is why each screen is just for printing one particular colour.

For printing – especially for custom t-shirt screen printing – we use a process called colour separation and the chart we use is called a  solid coated pantone system, which is closer to the CMYK if anything.

Really it doesn’t matter what your graphic is, we can convert it, however we do find it easier to ask the client to give us a CMYK graphic as the thresh hold is lower than RGB and finding an exact match to the colour is realistic. RGB gives brighter colours and often there is no match for it.


If you think you can wrap your head around more information, then check out this video below, it outlines some great information on how it works.




Image from Wikipedia – Creative Commons

How to use the basic chart

The colour wheel makes colour matching a breeze. Any 3 neighboring colours will go well together, as they share the same undertones. Alternatively, every colour has an opposite complementing colour, so if you put two colours that are on opposite sides of the wheel together, you end up with an amazing, contrasting combination.

Although the colour wheel is an ideal tool for selecting the right hue (a fancy designer word for colour), it is important to note that as a designer you also need to take saturation and value into consideration when selecting your colours. Saturation refers to the intensity of the colour so a bright, vivid colour would have a high saturation while a dull colour is considered to have low saturation. Similarly, value refers to the lightness or darkness of any given colour.


How to use a pantone chart

Since most designers will use RGB, you need to colour match. I found this website that has a pantone chart online and the process is simple. you will need a collaborated monitor and you pretty much look at the chart, look at the colour you want to match and try your darn hardest to pick the right one.

pantone colour usage


Remember that design is an art form so there is a lot of room for experimentation and self-expression. Although the colour wheel highlights some ideal matches, don’t be afraid to go out and try something new. You just might surprise yourself with how great it looks.

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