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Good To Know – Colour Classifiers Compared

Getting Your Brand Colour Right – A Comparison Of Colour Classifiers

A recent study found that colour increases brand recognition by more than 80%. It also found that colour can boost reading comprehension by over 70%, learning by at least 55%, and reading by 40%. This is significant. It means that when people see colours, the likelihood of recall and recognition skyrockets. In other words, colour is a very lucrative tools for brands.

But it is not just about choosing the right colour for a brand, it is also about ensuring consistency of colour across all mediums. Think Tiffany Blue, it never changes or wavers. Every brand’s colours should remain steadfast.

Decades ago, when brands first started pursuing colour consistency, the task was challenging. Achieving a precise shade, across all advertisements and media, was nearly impossible. In recent years, though, with the advent of electronic colour management tools, any brand can keep their colour quality constant.

Those in charge of branding at a company should be aware of the differences between the various colour classifying systems. Importantly, they need to make sure they have a reference for all their brand colours in each colour classifying system. The reason being that different classifiers are better suited to certain mediums. For example, a printed brochure, your website, or painting the office façade. Below is an explanation of the most common classifiers that should be included in your brand guidelines (Pantone, HEX, CMYK, RGB, RAL). Also, if your company brands its fleet in a solid colour, we would recommend also selecting a standard vinyl swatch (3M, Avery, etc) at the outset and including in your brand guidelines. Below is an excerpt from a brand guidelines document outlining the colour references in all relevant classifiers.

Pantone Matching System

Pantone was created by Pantone Incorporated and is a proprietary colour space. The colour classifying system is mainly used for printing. Some manufacturers also use it for their plastic, fabric, or paint production. Within the Pantone Colour Matching System there is a subset of colours than can be produced by another colour classifying system, CMYK, which will be discussed further down. However, the vast majority of Pantone colours cannot be produced with CMYK, but rather with 13 base pigments mixed in varying amounts.

The advantage of the pantone system, when compared to other colour classifying systems, is that it can produce colours outside of the normal range, including fluorescents and metallics. The downside of pantone is that it is not very digital friendly. In lieu of this, pantone offers RGB translations of their colours for screen-based use.


Hex (or Hexadecimal) Colour Code is the most popular method for designating colours in the on-line, digital world. It is a common, standardized way to refer to colour so that all browsers everywhere can process a colour request identically and consistently, ensuring that users can see the colours the page authors intended. HEX colour codes are specific, consistent and precise, and that is why they are so popular.


The CMYK colour model is based on the mixture of varying amounts of four inks, cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (a.k.a. black). It is commonly used in colour printing. CMYK is a subtractive colour model, meaning the inks that are used subtract red, green, and blue from white light. When red is subtracted from white light, cyan is created. When green is subtracted from white light, magenta is created. When blue is subtracted from white light, yellow is created.

One of the biggest benefits of using CMYK is that it uses black ink, rather than mixing other colours in order to create the colour black. Using straight black ink allows text to be more accurate when printed, provides a precise black instead of a muddy black, and dries faster on paper.

There are downsides to CMYK, though. The first is that it only allows for process colour printing and not spot colour printing. High-quality printed materials commonly require a mixture of both spot colour and process colour printing. There is also the fact that CMYK printers are limited in the colour gamut that they can provide (i.e. they cannot produce light, saturated colours).

British Standard Colour Charts

The British National Standards Body created the British Standards for colours. The main purpose of these standards was for coding and identification, such as on flags and decorative paints. The advantage to the British Standard is that colours outside of the normal range, such as finished colours and pearl, can be created, although they cannot be shown on digital screens. The biggest downside to this classifying system is that it is arguably the least standard. Not every colour has an official name and, while paint companies attempt to match colours as closely as possible, there can be variance.


The RGB colour model is an additive colour model—the opposite of the CMYK colour model. The model combines red, green, and blue light in different ratios to produce a wide gamut of colours. What makes RGB unique to the previously mentioned colour classifying systems is that it was specifically designed for use on electronic displays. It should be noted, though, that it is also commonly used in photography.

One of the downsides to RGB is that is requires the use of colour management. This is because a specific RGB value is not the same on every device, as well as the fact that it can vary over time. Another downside is that colour printers are not made to print RGB, but rather CMYK.


RAL stands for a German organisation, meaning Imperial Commission for Delivery Terms and Quality Assurance. The system is European and has traditionally been used for everything from varnish to plastics reference panels. One of the biggest advantages to using RAL is the precision and authenticity that the system ensures. While there are imitation RAL colours out there, which will often change shades of colours when the light source changes, approved RAL colours do not do this. To ensure authenticity, the company includes a hologram with all products. An additional advantage to RAL is that the wide gamut of colours comes in matte, metallic, and glossy options.

While RAL has been around since the earlier part of the 1900s, in the 1990s the company created a special version, RAL Design. This colour matching system was geared towards advertisers and designers and had a vast array of colours. These aspects of RAL make it stand out from the other colour classifying systems when looked at from a branding perspective. Not only was it designed to create perfect, immutable colour in paint, plastic, and other physical materials, but it was then redesigned to also suit printing and digital needs for designers, branding specialists, marketers, and advertisers.

In the end, while all colour classifying systems have their advantages, RAL is a strong choice for branding guidelines. It enables companies to create consistent colouring across geographic locations, digital platforms, and printed materials.

And don’t forget, you can always call us at iQ Branding Solutions for advice.


Posted in News on 2nd September 2018