Tagmatching print to the web

Choosing Logo Colors That Work for Web and Print

If you’re a designer who works in the digital space, you know how to use logos on the screen. But how do you specify a logo color for print when it only exists in RGB?

With a little bit of upfront work, you can completely bypass this problem.

For instance, the way you perceive color is dependent on how and where you’re looking at it. If you’re outside, is it a sunny day or is it overcast? If you’re inside, are you under fluorescent lights or color-correct lighting? Are you viewing color on a calibrated monitor or your five-year-old Macbook? There are so many variants.

Remember high school biology and chemistry classes? We learned about “controls,” and how to use a control to measure deviation. Um, that, and other random, nonsensical things that I quickly forgot (sorry Mr. Frost)!


In the world of graphic design, we have a fantastic control. It’s called the Pantone Color Bridge. It is aptly named Bridge because it bridges the gap between digital colors to printing inks.

Let’s get a closer look at the Bridge.Pantone232

The left swatch is printed in a spot Pantone ink, PMS 232 C. These spot colors used to be called PMS colors, although Pantone doesn’t call it that anymore. The ‘C’ in the name means that this color resides in the Coated fan deck. The left swatch also indicates the RGB and HTML hexadecimal formulas for that color.

On the right is the CMYK equivalent for the spot color on the left. In this case, the swatch is printed with 3% Cyan, 60% Magenta 0% Yellow and 0% Black. The ‘CP’ in the name means that this is a Color Process specification.

Note that the swatch on the right is lighter and less saturated than the swatch on the left. This is as close as these two colors can get. Ever.

If you design a logo that uses the RGB formula above, and you have a print job that needs to match, you now know:

1. The Pantone number to specify or the CMYK equivalent to use in your file (good!)

2. This is as close as it is going to get (bad!)

This next example shows two colors that are nearly identical.PantoneRhod

Again, the left swatch is a single ink, Rhodamine Red, and the right swatch is it’s CMYK equivalent. WOW. It’s hard to tell them apart, right?

If you specify Rhodamine Red in the Bridge you now know that it can be replicated closer to a CMYK equivalent. BINGO.

The Pantone Color Bridge set is not inexpensive, but it will save you loads of heartache and money in the end.

Here’s a little bit of background on why we need a tool like the Pantone Color Bridge.

When you look at a color, it is being interpreted by the source.

Outside in a garden, you see a pink rose. The color of that rose is going to be affected by the sunlight.

  • Is it bright or overcast?
  • Are you wearing sunglasses?
  • Do you have a degree of color blindness? (probably not if you are a graphic designer!)

When you look at color on a monitor, is it calibrated? Is it new or old?

And when looking at a printed sample, what is the lighting, the type of color — spot or CMYK, is the paper coated or uncoated?


All of these examples describe gamut. Color gamut is the range of color that can be created by a device. This diagram shows the gamut of color perceived or reproducible by different color systems or “devices.”



The outer edge is the visible gamut that our eyes can perceive. The left diagram shows the gamuts of various RGB profiles (because you are viewing this on a monitor, you are not “really” seeing the true visible spectrum, which is why there are a zillion greens in nature). And isn’t it crazy that there are multiple RGB gamuts? The diagram on the right contains Pantone, CMYK, Hexachrome and SWOP CMYK gamuts.


If you are designing a logo for a website, in the RGB space area (the triangle at left, outside the inner CMYK area and you want it to match when printed, you are going to stress out. As you can see, in the lower diagram, the grayed out area is showing everything within the Adobe RGB gamut that is impossible to create with CMYK inks. Nearly the full orange wedge is outside the CMYK gamut. The Pantone bridge illustrates this for the Pantone universe.

Study this color model and you’ll see the areas to avoid. If you stick to the CMYK circle you will be able to match colors across CMYK, Pantone, and RGB. This may seem very limiting, but the truth is that in the CMYK circle, there are MILLIONS of colors. Also, don’t forget that rarely monitors are not calibrated, so reducing your RGB color space to a narrower CMYK reproducible space may increase your RGB consistency as well.

Before Pantone developed this product it was a real b*tch to try to match identity, and we had to keep logo colors in a really narrow spectrum. Now with the Pantone Color Bridge, we have millions of colors to work with!

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Logo Design for Print

If you are creative, are good with color, excel at drawing, love fonts, or exhibit other characteristics of a graphic designer (funky glasses anyone?), friends, relatives, and neighbors will very likely ask you to design a logo for their business. Ironically, the single most complex, vital, long-lasting business necessity is what many small businesses spend the least amount of time on—their logo. Nine times out of ten, the owner sketches the logo on the back of a paper napkin or asks his nephew to create it. Conversely, a professional designer who is well versed in publication work printed in run lengths of millions on gravure presses, may be asked to design a logo and not know anything about the sheetfed paper market or reproduction standards.

A company’s logo and identity system (the letterhead, business cards, etc., used to identify a brand) establish the company’s brand for as long as the company is using that identity. Unlike a brochure or invitation, which might never be reprinted, an identity system will dictate the cost of stationery again, and again, and again, year in and year out. You control the cost through your design, so it is important to know how much your client expects to spend each year on stationery. Is the company dependent on business cards that stand out and make a statement, or are they going to be stuffed into mailboxes by the millions? Designing an identity system that is not compatible with your client’s budget for years two through fifteen can send a message that you are not managing costs, and that could lead to the loss of work on future projects, such as marketing collateral or web development.

I have seen too many logos that were “designed” by the aforementioned category of untrained folk and made to work in Excel (yes, I know, SMH) and printed on a home inkjet printer on “letterhead” for a few months while the startup was getting underway, that later cost a FORTUNE when it was time to print the real deal. Oftentimes the logo owner is reluctant to change their “baby” which is already in  the marketplace. Or, an inexperienced business person may see an exorbitant cost as simply “the cost of looking professional”.

A logo, no matter where it appears, needs to look great under any of the following conditions:

  • It is reproduced in black and white.
  • It is embroidered.
  • It is silk-screened.
  • It is reproduced in one color without the use of screens.

Here are some examples of different iterations of a well-designed logo.
It is easy to reproduce, easy to implement in various color scenarios and consistent.
It is the logo for Mohawk Paper, a paper mill. When it comes to advertising budgets and
spare-no-printing-expense businesses, paper companies have the nth of budgets.

When you are designing a logo for your uncle’s donut shop, it may seem impossible that some of the above conditions would ever arise, but they undoubtedly will. Here are some scenarios:

  • The logo is reproduced in black and white in the church bulletin.
  • The logo is embroidered on golf shirts when the donut shop sponsors a tournament.
  • The logo is silk-screened on t-shirts for the employee uniforms.
  • The logo is reproduced in one color without the use of screens, a requirement for some types of printing (such as on pink bakery boxes).

Following are some tips and pointers when designing logos. They are divided up by the kind of element that can make a logo difficult or expensive, colors that complicate logos and design decisions that absolutely raise reproduction costs.

The following elements make logos difficult to reproduce and should be avoided:

  • Very small type, process color type
  • Hairline rules
  • Tight registration on tiny elements
  • Design elements that are tiny in relation to the whole.

This is a photograph of two rows of “environmental” certifications, each from a different publication. The top row uses color logos and the bottom uses black and white versions. The only logo common to both is the FSC logo. Note how the tiny elements are lost. Note how big type reads so much clearer than the tiny type in the biodiesel logo, what is that tagline? In all fairness, these color logos probably have black and white line art versions that would read just as well as the ones above. But, if they have those other versions it is because the designers went through an exercise like this, checking the readability. 

Color choices that do not work well for logos include the following:

  • Any Pantone* mixture that has more than one part of opaque white. We will go into more detail in another post about ink formulas and the downside of inks that contain high amounts of opaque white.
  • Reflex Blue and Pantone formulas that have large amounts of Reflex Blue take longer to dry (a couple of days) than other inks. Other inks take a few hours or will dry overnight, depending on whether or not the press has an IR (Infra Red) dryer (more on IR presses in another post). Therefore, using Reflex Blue on business cards or any rush job is going to be impossible for a client who is always in a hurry. Many ink companies have an imitation Reflex Blue that dries more quickly, but the color is simply not as rich as the real thing. There will be a post on reflex blue and other colors that require imitation pigments due to a host of problems.
  • A process color logo adds cost to a large company, but for a small or home-based business, it is a fine choice. Do specify CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) color for tiny businesses. Digital printing has made it more affordable than Pantone Matching System* (PMS) in some cases. For those instances where digital printing will not work, such as for letterhead and envelopes, more to come on that topic, gang run printing offers a cost-effective alternative.
  • Custom color is difficult to keep consistent. If your client can live with inconsistency, then this option is acceptable. With computerized ink mixing, inconsistency is becoming less of a problem. But if you have only one print shop in town, and employees are mixing ink by hand, discuss this before specifying a custom color for a logo.

Sometimes extra expense is justifiable due to the nature of the business. Ask your client, and make sure to explain these costs are not one-time but will continue whenever that logo is reproduced. The following elements look beautiful but add cost:

  • Multiple colors in tight registration.
  • Foil stamping.
  • Reverses out of large solids.
  • Embossing or debossing.

The small presses used to print most business cards often have limitations for reproduction quality. That is not to say they are incapable of high-end work, they certainly are. But the type of high-end work may be in question. And the unhappy truth is that going onto a larger press costs a lot more. If we address the bullets above, multiple colors in tight registration and reverses out of large solids, those items add expense because if the tolerances are too tight, a small printing press with a common blanket may not be able to print the design. Small presses with a separate blanket for each unit exist and for them, the most precise printing is not a problem. How are you as a designer supposed to know the difference? Trust your printer. And for something as common as a business card, that has such a giant impact, keep it simple and you and your client will be ahead of the game.

Stay tuned, next up, designing business cards!

Confused about digital printing?

For a limited time to can get the actual decision tree in my book, for free! The ultimate tool for figuring out if a project can be digitally printed or if it needs to go on press. PLUS you'll get a heads up when the Kickstarter campaign launches.

We respect your privacy.