Understanding Colors in Branding

A Step-by-Step Guide to The Creative Process of Branding: Part 3

As we explored briefly in our introductory article on Branding, every successful brand has a strong brand identity — tangible visual and experiential cues that are consistent across every touchpoint. This is essential for customers to differentiate your brand from the masses.

You may think, “That does not sound too difficult?”Even so, we often see many brands that have inconsistencies in the most fundamental visual cue of all — colors.

Given how core colors are to brand identity, you must be wondering how can so many companies make this simple mistake?

To better explain this phenomenon, we will first have to introduce you to the 5 different types of color systems used in the design — on-screen and in print:


Pantone- For Print (Solid Colors)

If you have ever painted your home, you must have heard of the term “Pantone colors”.

While the masses tend to associate Pantone colors with paints, the application of the Pantone color system is incredibly wide — from graphic design to fashion and product design and many more.

In short, the Pantone color system is a simple standardized numeric system that matches a unique number to a specific number. This organized palette (currently ranging over 1,800 different colors) is essential in helping designers make accurate color matches compared to other systems.

What is this color system used for? The accuracy for color matching is ideal but works best for 1–2 color print jobs. For more complicated print jobs, CMYK is usually the preferred option due to the lower cost and simpler processes involved.

CMYK — For Print

Remember back in school, in art class where you learned that mixing primary colors will give rise to new secondary colors?

Well, the CMYK color system works exactly in this manner — with 4 primary colors Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black.

Depending on how much of each color is added to the medium one layer at a time, different colors are obtained. The more you add, you get closer to black.

For instance, the CMYK values of pure Red is C= 0, M= 99, Y= 100 and B = 0. In contrast, the popular Tiffany Blue is obtained with CMYK values of C= 95, M= 0, Y= 3 and B= 27.

What is this color system used for? The four colors combination can give rise to unique color combinations and even gradients! Great if you are looking for a distinctive color to represent your brand and evoke the right emotions. It is primarily used for print on magazines or books or even packaging, where a variety of colors are used. The medium it is used on is usually paper-based.

RGB — On Screen

But not all branding is done on printed materials, right? Given the digitalized world we live in, we tend to interact with brands online.

Compared to the CMYK system, the RGB color system does not mix physical colors but instead mixes light — which gives rise to a different interaction. RGB uses the overlaying of Red, Green, and Blue light sources from the monitor’s backlight to create other colors that we see on the screen. The more you add, you get to closer to white.

For instance, the RGB code for red is (255, 0, 0). Whereas the RGB for Tiffany Blue is (3.9,72.9, 71) — which uses a scale of 0 -255 instead of the 0–100% for CMYK.

What is this color system used for?Given that the source of color comes from an illuminated light source, this color system is specific for screen applications only — for example, your mobile phones, computer screens, TVs, and digital signages.

Hex — Specific for Web Design

For designers developing a website, HEX colors (a shorthand for RGB values) are used instead!

Thanks to many freely available tools out there, you can now easily convert your “RGB colors to HEX” no sweat! Here is one of the many tools you can use: RGB to Hex Color conversion.

RAL — For Coatings

Last but not least, introducing the RAL color matching system — one which is primarily used to match colors for paint, coatings, and plastics — media that are not paper or screen.

Compared to the other color systems, the RAL color system also includes a variety of matte, glossy pearlescent, and even metallic tints for coatings.

What is this color system used for? This is the ideal color system when it comes to coating or coloring physical products — non-paper-based. For different purposes, they have 3 different sets of RAL systems to choose from: RAL ClassicRAL DesignRAL Effect and RAL Plastics.

Important Takeaways

  1. When deciding on your brand colors — think of where it will be used and check if the selected color can be replicated accurately across all the media.
  2. Determine your color codes across all the color systems — from Pantone, CMYK, RGB, to Hex (and RAL if required)
  3. Document these on your brand identity guidelines so they can be shared with designers and printers — they know exactly what colors they need to match across all collaterals be it online or in print or other media.
  4. Make sure your files are created or converted to the right color system — to prevent surprises (e.g. images created in RGB needs to be converted to CMYK before print)

Useful Color Combination Services to Use

Need help with the very first step of deciding on your brand colors?

Here are some free and easy to use color combination services that help you come up with easy on the eyes color palettes for your brand: