Before You Buy PANTONE Color Guides for Graphics and Printing

The PANTONE Matching System (PMS) is the dominant spot color printing system in the United States. Pantone, Inc. sells guides (known as swatch books) and chips for both spot colors and for process (CMYK) color printing. For the first time purchaser, the number and variety of books can be overwhelming. Here's what you need to know about these swatch books to help you make an informed buying choice.


Somewhat similar to the paint strips you can pick up at a home improvement store, the fan-guides show blocks of several related colors with the color name or formula printed beside each color. The strips are fastened together at one end so that you can spread or fan out the strips. Printed on either coated, uncoated, or matte finish stock, guides can be purchased separately or in sets.

    Binders / Chips

    These swatch books come in 3-ring binders with pages of color blocks. The chips are little tear-off samples of colors. This format is ideal for providing samples with your artwork or digital files so that clients can get a more accurate picture of how the printed colors in their project will appear. A few specialty guides in binders have no tear-off chips.

      Coated / Uncoated / Matte Stocks

      The type of paper used affects the appearance of the ink. Swatch books are typically available on coated, uncoated, and matte stock to more closely show how the color will look in your finished project. Pantone Inc. also produces some specialty guides showing the inks on other surfaces such as foil or film. Purchase the books or chips on the type of stock you most commonly use.

      Formula / Solid Spot Color

      The Formula Guides and Solid Chips are the swatch books with your spot color inks. Also called PMS, there are over 1,000 PMS colors. There is also a special guide for converting PMS colors to their closest-match CMYK or process color. Some specialty guides focus on metallic colors, pastels, or tints.

      Process Color

      Process Guides and Process Chips help simplify the selection of process colors for 4-color CMYK printing. The primary process swatch books contain over 3,000 Pantone Process Colors with their CMYK percentages. The books are available on coated and uncoated stock and in SWOP or EURO editions. SWOP is a printing standard used in the US and Asia. EURO (for Euroscale) is used in Europe.

      Digital Guides

      The latest innovation in color guides, Digital chips allow you to match over 1,000PANTONE spot colors with their process color equivalents and the output from a Xerox DocuColor 6060 digital press. The tear-out chips come on coated stock.

        Used / Old Swatch Books

        The cost of older books is tempting but new books are best. Colors fade over time and old books may not provide an accurate representation, making them no more useful for color-matching than relying on your monitor and inkjet printer. Additionally, Pantone, Inc. has made changes over the years that render some books obsolete. In 2004 the coated and matte stock used in all guides was updated which results in some color differences from previous books.

        Computer Simulation

        PANTONE color palettes for use with Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, QuarkXPress and other software programs simulate the appearance of PANTONE spot and process colors (suffixes of CV, CVU, and CVC). These require that your monitor be properly calibrated but are still simply simulations. A printed swatch book is best for color selection and matching.


        Leave a comment

        Please note, comments must be approved before they are published