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The Perils of Pantone Colors in the Coatings Industry

by Jim Essig - Technical Director, Specialty Flooring


The Perils of Pantone Colors in the Coatings Industry

Once upon a time, industrial coatings companies typically had a company color chart with six to nine colors. They didn’t have a provision for doing custom match colors without painstakingly matching by eye, and then obtaining the necessary pigments and grinding them into the paint base. This was costly and time consuming, so many companies only offered their standard colors.


Fast forward to today., Virtually every company offers the option to custom match colors for customers, or offers 100s or even 1000s of “standard colors.”


The use of color spectrophotometers to determine color composition has greatly improved the ability to custom match colors. However, there are limitations to the ability of the spectrophotometer to properly read a color. This brings me to the Pantone dilemma.


The Pantone color deck has been designed to facilitate making colored inks for the printing industry. These Pantone ink colors tend to be very bright and vivid, and are presented in print format. Printed materials are made of many, many small dots – not a continuous color. 


Printed materials cannot be read with a spectrophotometer, so any Pantone matches requested must be matched by eye. Additionally, in many cases, the color cannot be exactly matched using the pigments designed for architectural and industrial coatings, which tend to be more muted than inks. In essence, every match to a Pantone color more than likely will be slightly off, and may or may not be visible to the naked eye. This situation would apply to any print media supplied as a color to match, be it a business card, corporate letterhead, etc.


The best way to ensure a true color match is to have the customer or specifier choose from a color deck from a national coatings supplier such as Sherwin Williams or Dunn Edwards. Unlike the Pantone color deck, these color decks are made with continuous color swatches that exactly represent the coating color. As such, they can be matched and verified with a color spectrophotometer, and for the most part, will use pigments designed for the architectural and industrial coatings industry.