Helping Your Customer Pick A Color


Editors note: This article is not sponsored by Pantone LLC®.

What do you do when you have customers that are trying to pick colors for a new product? You can send them to the website of a color concentrate manufacturer to look at the stock colors that they make but that won’t provide many options.

I would suggest that you have them look at Pantone® colors. If you are not familiar with Pantone colors, let me explain.

First, let me get one confusing thing out of the way. Many people refer to the Pantone Matching System as PMS. I have had a few customers contact me and say “hey I am quoting a molding job; the print says ABS with PMS 2123C color”. The problem is that their used to be a color concentrate manufacturer called PMS consolidated. They were purchased by Hanna in 1990 and the PMS name eventually went away. Hanna later became PolyOne. More than once, when someone has given me a PMS color number, I am thinking of the old PMS consolidated. You might want to double check if it is a really old job but most likely, they are referring to the Pantone Matching System.

Pantone is basically a standardizing system for colors. They have a number of different color libraries in which each color is identified with an alpha-numeric code. This gives you a way of communicating what color that you want to someone else who is working on the same project. For instance, if you work for Home Depot and you need to have something made in the Home Depot orange color, you can tell them to use Pantone #165C which is the color of the Home Depot Logo. Starbucks uses Pantone 3298C for their logo.

Pantone 165C

Pantone has thousands of colors and your customer should be able to find one that they like. You will then be able to communicate the Pantone number to a color concentrate manufacturer and they can custom match a material to that color. Every color house has Pantone color chips and can match them.

The Pantone website has a convenient color finder page to help you find colors. You can check it out here. You can also purchase a Pantone Matching System book if you want to show customers some options in person. Sometimes looking at colors on a computer monitor is not ideal.

The Pantone color numbers can be a little bit confusing so let me offer a little explanation.

Pantone has a number of different color systems.

First they have the Pantone Matching System otherwise known as PMS. There are 1867 solid colors that are really designed for printing ink on paper. They use a three to four digit number followed by a “C” for coated paper which is glossy or a “U” for uncoated paper which is matte finish. There are a few colors that have names as well like Cool Gray C with no numbers and a few that have names and numbers like Orance 021 U. See, I told you it was a bit confusing.

Then they have metallic colors. These have a three or four digit number that always begins with an 8. They are only available on coated paper so they will always be followed by a “C”.

They also have premium metallic colors that are identified by a five digit number that begins with a 10 and is always followed by a “C” like the regular metallic colors.

They have a pastels and neons collection. They use three or four digit numbers that begin with 9 although a few begin with 8 and a few more have names without numbers (sigh).

They have a collection of what they call CMYK/Four Color Process colors. These begin with a P followed by a one to three digit number followed by a dash and one or two digit number and finally a C or U for coated or uncoated paper. Example: P11-4 C.

They have a Fashion, Home + Interiors collection which are printed on paper or are dyed cotton samples. They are identified by a two digit number followed by a dash and a four digit number followed by either a TPX suffix which indicates paper or a TCX suffix that indicates cotton.

The one we are most concerned with here is the plastics colors collection. There are two sets of plastic color chips.

The first is the Plastics Selector Chips. These are a collection of 735 transparent colors and 1005 opaque colors. They are designated by a “Q” for Opaque or a “T” for transparent followed by a three digit number followed by a dash, one digit, another dash and another digit. Example: Q270-2-4.

The second collection of plastic color chips is called Plastic Standard Chips. Unlike the Plastics Selector Chips, these are matched to either the Pantone Matching System (PMS) or the Fashion, Home + Interiors collection. They are designated by a PQ followed by a dash and a three or four digit color number (which corresponds to the PMS) plus a “C”. The chips that are matched to the Fashion, Home + Interiors collection are designated by a PQ followed by a dash and two digits, another dash, and four digits and a TCX at the end.

Keep in mind that not all colors in the Pantone Matching System have a corresponding plastics chip. This could make it significantly more difficult to match in plastics. If a customer provides you with a PMS number to match in plastic, you should check on the Pantone sight to see if it has a corresponding chip in the Plastic Standard Chips collection. It may not. You can go to the Shop tab and see if you can find a color chip. They are listed by the PMS number. The site also has some cross reference lists.

You can purchase individual color chips on the site for $18.00 a piece which is surprisingly reasonable. The entire collection of plastic chips is currently priced at $3,620.00 so that is probably only for color houses that match a lot of Pantone colors. You can purchase a collection of all of the PMS colors on paper in a fan deck for $155.00 which is not too bad but keep in mind that not all of these colors have corresponding plastic chips.

Pantone 3298C

The Pantone color systems are a great resource if you want to help customers pick colors, especially if you are working with a customer who is far away. You can have them go to the Pantone site and peruse colors to their hearts content. The plastic color chips that Pantone provides have a matte finish side and a glossy side to make them easy to use for matching at a color house plus they can be used for quality control later.


The numbering system and multiple collections of colors that they have can be a little daunting at first. Have your customer start with the Pantone Matching System colors to get them in the ballpark. If you’re lucky the color they pick will have a match in plastics. If not, you will probably find one that is close. Pantone even offers assistance if you want to develop a completely new color as well. If you see a company logo on a sign somewhere and you want to use it, Google “ABC Company logo Pantone Color and you will probably find the color you are looking for.

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