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Branding, Design

November 28, 2018

Brand Standards Breakdown: Color

I’m excited to start a new series where we will be taking a deep dive into what really goes into developing a set of useful brand standards that can guide your branded marketing efforts visually, and even verbally, as you work to grow your business and reach your target audience.


If you have been following me over on instagram, you might remember a few weeks ago I mentioned an 8-week effort I’d be undertaking called #kedswednesdaywords where I would create graphics for different words each Wednesday. After looks of debate over what the theme of the series should be I landed on using it as an opportunity to really nerd out about some of my favorite marketing and design buzz words and this weeks word was color.


I started typing out a caption and then realized that the content would be better served as a long form blog post, and even though I knew I was planning to round up all those wednesday words posts for a blog post later, it pushed me to dive into this series I wanted to work on for 2019 a little early. So, this week were jumping right in and starting with one of those brand standard items near and dear to my heart – color.


Your Brand Color Code

We all love a good Pantone swatch book. It’s so fun to oogle at the colors and plus, there’s a ton of Pantone themed merchandise out there, but Pantone is also one of the most respected and established color matching systems out there.  Even HUGE international brands rely on PMS colors to keep their brand colors consistent in everything they do.

Seriously there are people whose job it is to build workflows that help maintain consistent color for major brands for print production (not a joke, it used to be my husband’s job – so we’re pretty serious about color around here!).


As a business owner, and especially someone who loves design, I get it – there is so much inspiration for color around us each and every day. It’s so easy to get lost matching colors from your favorite painting or that gorgeous fabric from the chair in your living room, but if you have no system for keeping color consistent over time, it could eventually morph into something totally unrecognizable. This is just one of the reasons it’s important to invest in developing in-depth brand standards up-front.


What are brand standards?

Brand Standards or graphic standards are a reference document created specifically for your brand identity. They can define a variety of elements of your brand, from visual graphic standards, to trademarks,  terminology, and more. Brand standards typically include things like:

  • primary and secondary logos and logo uses
  • brand associated fonts and typography guidelines
  • graphic styles and branded design elements
  • associated word marks and symbols
  • any associated trademark terms or slogans
  • brand color palettes and color formulas

Why is it important to define color standards?

Colors are some of the most visibly recognized brand elements. Think about the brands associated with your favorite sports teams, your favorite consumer brands or even food and beverage brands – you can probably name the specific colors associated with those companies and visualize the shades of their brand colors. But, what if those colors were slightly altered? Or even worse, what if you bought items from two different places and the colors on the packaging or the product we’re totally different; you might feel like one was a knock off or damaged, or somehow a lesser version of what you were expecting to get.

Your brand standards are designed to help you keep that from happening. Your brand standards should define how to create your color in print, digital, and web platforms and set the expectation for anyone who might create collateral for your brand in the future.


How can you define colors?

Without getting too nerdy, there are a few standard ways that you might see color defined as “values.” Those are typically Pantone, which tends to be viewed as the standard, especially for print production. And then color builds like RBG or CMYK and then digital callouts like hex# or hexadecimal colors. CMYK and Pantone are the most common methods for defining color for print production while RGB and hex tend to rule the roost when it comes to displaying color in digital spaces.


While it all seems confusing to have to define colors so many ways, it’s important to remember that the various colors you can see are typically built from the combination of just a few colors. In print those colors are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black – these 4 process colors are overlaid in a variety of combinations to make a huge gamut of colors for printing. In digital spaces those colors are Red, Green and Blue and colors are created by combining different quantities of Red, Green, and Blue light to make a variety of hues.



Why Should I define color standards?

While you can develop your brand standards from color swatches and sampling images you found online, it’s best to build your brand on a solid foundation. Pantone, CMYK and RGB builds are industry standards, they are referenced in a variety of creative agencies, design firms, print shops and more, and many vendors will often ask for your PMS (Pantone Matching System) number or color specifications in producing branded merchandise for you.

The best place to start is with Pantone, since it’s widely recognized as a way to define color across the industry and many design programs include the swatches, defining your brand colors as Pantone numbers helps maintain consistency so that no matter who works on your project it always looks and feels like your brand and is cohesive with other items you have created in the past. It’s also much easier to derive the various color formulas from a PMS color than to try to match a color build to an existing color swatch. The biggest benefit to using an industry standard to define color is in maintaining consistency for your brand and easily communicating that information to third party vendors.


What if I don’t have Pantone colors?

Admittedly some of the first brands I built didn’t use Pantone colors, I didn’t think it was that important and plus, my client really liked a specific shade, so I just went with it. Flash forward a few projects and we had issues matching the color in merchandise and marketing materials, and there seemed to be a lot of variation across printing processes and we ran into color matching issues with what we were doing digitally and what we considered to be the “actual” brand color from some of the initial specs we developed. You live and you learn.

While a specific PMS color wouldn’t have fixed every issue, having a defined standard that the various vendors could reference would have gone a long way to helping ensure we were able to maintain consistency in all our projects.

Not using Pantone isn’t the end of the world, but it certainly eliminates headaches along the way, especially if you are considering implementing a variety of print marketing and merchandise for your brand and know that you will be working with a variety of vendors to build things out.


Need help decoding your colors?

If you’re thinking of revamping your brand or just want some guidance on developing a set of standards to help keep your brand consistent, let’s chat! Or, you can tune back into this series as we work through the in’s and out’s developing brand standards that will serve your brand well.




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