The 101 on pantones

When looking into printing a custom t-shirt, you may find yourself coming across a term that’s unfamiliar: “Pantones”. If you’re planning t-shirts or tote bags for your business, it can be confusing to stumble across unfamiliar terminology or technical speak. After all, if you’re going to get your designs printed, you want to make sure that it comes out right – but you might not have the time or resources to get stuck into untangling every part of the technical process.

At ICON we work with many clients who have no prior experience in printing custom merch, and we can help at every step of the way. However, we have also put together this post going through the basics on pantones and what you need to know when planning to print your design.

What are pantones?

The Pantone Matching System (PMS) was created as a way for designers to consistently be able match specific colours. This means that when a designer chooses a specific “green” for a design, the manufacturer, client, partner, printer, etc. are all able to refer to the Pantone system and create a perfectly matched “green.”

Also known as the “spot colour” method, the pantone colour chart can show you what solid colours are supposed to look like in real life. The number coded and catalogued way they are collated is the global standard by which printers work to. A Pantone book costs around £150 and they can be purchased from a multitude of graphics related retailers online.

How are they used for garment printing?

We use pantones to match colours for screen printing jobs. This can work two ways: either we match clients’ designs with the pantone we think is closest, or the client will match it themselves, sending over a pantone code along with their design. We add these pantone codes to our visual proof that goes to production, ensuring that our print team will produce the exact colour match of original artwork.

What’s the difference between coated and uncoated?

Pantone books are usually sold in pairs with “coated” and “uncoated” colour charts. A coated chart has a gloss finish on the colour swatches, which produces a more saturated looking colour. An uncoated colour has no finish and makes the colour appear “matt” and somewhat less saturated.

We use the coated charts when matching colours for screen printing, so if you do send over pantone codes along with your design then please refer to the coated ones.

What about for direct-to-garment (DTG) printing?

We don’t use pantone codes for DTG, as DTG is essentially – as this guide explains – like a high spec laserjet printer, directly printing out your design onto the garment. For this reason, no colour matching is necessary.

If you’re looking to print in more unusual colours, it might be worth considering screen printing, as there are a wider range of colours available to choose from in the pantone book. This includes things like neon and metallic colours, which could be a great option if you’re looking to make an impression.

Planning to create custom printed merch? Want to discuss which printing method would be best for your t-shirt? At ICON Printing we offer fast turnaround printing on t-shirts and an array of other merch, counting clients from Boiler Room to WeWork, the Tate to Niketown. Get a quote in 2 minutes online.