Why do the colors on my marketing materials always look different? Understanding color codes

Branding, Marketing

Every industry has its own language full of acronyms and jargon. Just as an IRA, IAR and RIA seem similar enough but have drastically different meanings for financial professionals, color modes in the design and marketing world contain similar complexities. While you may think your brand colors are blue and gold—it is not always as simple as that. In actuality, the naming of colors can be very technical, and understanding this will help ensure greater consistency in your materials across different media platforms—a must for today’s increasingly integrated digital and offline brand experiences. The following are four of the most common color models to understand (and when to use them!)

RBG (red, green, blue) for screens and devices
This is an “additive” process, meaning when all three colors are brought together they create white light (R255 G255 B255), and the absence of these colors creates black (R0 G0 B0). RGB color combinations will be provided in values ranging from 0 to 255. For example, R78 G135 B143 is the mix needed of these three colors to create AdvisorPR’s dark teal blue on screen.

RGB color mode is best used for designs that are intended to be viewed on screen, from computer monitors, TVs, mobile apps, downloads—anything that will be viewed online. There will be a slight variation of colors expected between devices depending on how the monitors or displays are calibrated. When you are editing color in Microsoft Word, you will have the choice of either RGB or CMYK color scales (which we discuss below) to input your values. Consider whether you intend to print or share your document digitally when selecting this option.

HEX (hexadecimal) – for website and email coding
HEX codes are just another equation for calculating an RGB color value that are used as the primary method for website coding and email platforms.

Whether you are working with a web programmer or directly editing within an email marketing platform (such as Constant Contact, MailChimp, Infusionsoft, etc.), you will use HEX codes as the preferred method to edit font colors and other graphics to match your brand. These will be a combination of 6 letters and numbers following a # sign. For example, AdvisorPR’s dark teal is written as #4e878f, or HEX white is #ffffff and black is #000000. 

CMYK    CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black)for printing

The opposite of RGB is CMYK, a “subtractive” process, meaning when all these colors are mixed together they create black, and the absence of these colors is white, just like mixing paint. These values will range in percentages from 0-100%. This process should look familiar if you have ever changed the ink cartridges on your inkjet printer. Any materials you intend to have printed, such as letterhead, business cards or other print collateral, will typically be requested in CMYK. This is also referred to as “four color process printing” so you may see something like 4/0 or 4/4 on your print orders meaning full-color front / blank back or full-color both sides.

It is important to note, there will be a subtle shift in color that is considered normal or acceptable because of different papers, ink levels, temperature or other adjustments when printing in CMYK, particularly in shades of blue there can be a more recognizable difference when working with multiple printers. Ordering materials from the same printer can help create more consistency, or when precision matching is needed, we have a final option of spot color or Pantone (PMS).

Pantone colorPANTONE or PMS (Pantone Matching System) –for standardized universal color matching
When exact color matching is a must (think Coca-Cola red, Tiffany blue, etc.), Pantone or PMS is an industry standard between printers for use in spot color. Typically, printers will be limited to 1 or 2 spot colors per job, but this can be used in addition to CMYK. The use of Pantone matching does require additional steps in the printing process, and therefore, added cost. And, even with PMS colors, the difference in papers, particularly between matte/uncoated finishes or a glossy/coated product will have visible differences.

So, how can you be sure your colors will come out as expected?
If you are having a new brand printed for the first time, working with a local printer to review Pantone swatches or full-color proofs if using CMYK will be your best option to see and finalize your true colors before investing in new materials.

Additionally, when establishing your professional visual brand, you should be provided with a reference guide that provides your RGB, HEX and CMYK color codes to use across all platforms as an industry standard. Pantone recommendations or matches can also be established, but again should be limited to 1 to 2 primary colors of your brand for printers to be able to produce.

For additional tips or assistance establishing your professional visual brand and high impact support materials for your financial services firm, contact AdvisorPR today!

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