Have you ever wondered how the most famous brands found their colors? Consider the dramatic red on a can of Coca-Cola, Tiffany’s iconic blue, or the brilliant yellow border on every issue of National Geographic. These colors are synonymous with the brand. And it’s not by accident: The color gurus at Pantone are responsible for standardizing the colors behind many of today’s top brands, creating memorable experiences for consumers around the world. According to Pantone’s website, “When 80 percent of human experience is filtered through the eyes, we understand that the choice of color is critical.”
You may be familiar with Pantone’s well-known color chips. But what is the history behind the global company and how is Pantone staying relevant today?
Pantone began in the 1950s as the commercial printing company of an advertising agency in New York City. In 1956, a young chemist named Lawrence Herbert joined the company. He noticed how difficult it was for designers, ad agencies, and printing companies to identify the same colors for brands and products.
After buying the printing division of Pantone in 1962, Herbert began using his chemical expertise to simplify the color process and create a universal language of color. Instead of mixing 60 pigments, he reduced the number of pigments to just 10 and created standardized “recipes” to help printers produce uniform colors. Thus began the Pantone Matching System, which standardized color reproduction. By referring to a specific color number, Pantone’s universal color language allowed different manufacturers to ensure their work matched, even while working from separate locations.
Pantone’s Formula Guides are one of the company’s most popular products and are commonly used for creating logos and branding, marketing materials and packaging. Its highly accurate ink formulations have made Pantone the most commonly used guide for creating and adhering to brand guidelines.
Staying relevant in the digital age
Pantone has continued to bring innovation to the world of design. In 1987, Pantone opened the Pantone Color Institute, working with brands and designers to create custom brand color development using color psychology and consumer research. The institute also works to forecast color trends globally and by region. Since 2000, the Pantone Color Institute has announced a “Color of the Year,” working with a secret committee of representatives from different nations to select a color that best represents the emotions and attitudes of the year. In recent years, Pantone created interactive software so users can share color swatches and information about colors, including the Pantone Studio App, which allows users to take a photo and extract the colors in the image.
Pantone has also worked to foster brand awareness and brand loyalty in recent years. About 15% of Pantone’s business comes from selling licensed products like mugs, paint, artwork, and even suitcases. The company has also ramped up their digital marketing and social media efforts to engage with people who simply love color, not just the designers who use color in their work. When you consider how popular these simple color chips have become, it’s easy to understand why Pantone is now a household name. As Leatrice Eiseman, the director of Pantone’s Color Institute once said, “I’ve never met a color I couldn’t love.”
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