The History of Pantone

By Sally Edwards

How and why Pantone became the industry giant it is today.

Just imagine. You’ve started up your business and you’re going to get some mugs printed with your logo - a red post box and your company name below it. However, you’re getting them printed in China, where they might have never seen the iconic red post box situated in every small British town. So how do you know they’re going to get the colour right? Well, you could try explaining the colour and referencing it to that of a ripe, red apple? But then again, there are a lot of colour variations. Well, it’s the 21st century, just send an image on the computer, simple! Oh, wait. All computers are configured differently so they will possibly see a different red to the one on your screen…

Well, not to fear. This is where Lawrence Herbert comes in to save the day. Back in 1963, Lawrence Herbert introduced what we know today as a Pantone book. A book filled with 100’s of small rectangular sheets of paper printed with specific colours and references that can be used to guarantee the final print colour on products. How useful, right? Lawrence introduced this for the print industry to become more efficient due to frequent mishaps and reprinting costs when a colour was not effectively communicated between staff.

Once Lawrence had designed the system and book so that people could mix inks accurately to get the correct colour every time, the company distributed this system out across the world and by the 1970’s Pantone had sold over 100,000 books. The fact that people could look at a book, choose a colour, have it printed and then match that colour to the book it was originally chosen from meant that the Pantone Matching System went global quickly.

If they’re misprinting their cup, how are they making their coffee?

Now, take Starbucks for example. When you think of the logo, what is the colour that comes to mind? Green. But we aren’t talking about any colour of green, it’s not a forest green or a lime green. Now imagine going for your Starbucks and finding that the logo was a lime green colour. It looks as if you’ve been given a misprinted cup. If they’re misprinting their cup, how are they making their coffee? That’s where the Pantone system comes in. The Pantone system is designed to let the printers know how to mix inks to make sure you get the right colour every time. No need to worry about that lime green Starbucks print anymore.  

With colour being such a personal thing, from Cadbury’s purple to your favourite yellow, Pantone have now even stretched out into personal Pantone merchandise. From mugs and books to your favourite colour bauble, pick from a selection of Pantone colours and own your own piece of Pantone matched goods. Or, if you’re feeling like going the extra mile, why not take a trip to the Pantone cafe, currently situated in Paris, housing delicious food in a selection of carefully chosen Pantone exact colours? From trying to improve print standards to reduce re-print costs to becoming a household name for designers and colour lovers alike, Pantone is slowly becoming the household name for identifying colour.