A company's brand includes typefaces, icons, images, colors, emotions and more. Every element is carefully designed and selected to add value, to support the positive perception of a company. While all the elements of a brand come together to create one cohesive brand identity, one of the most underestimated and overlooked elements of a brand is its color.
Color provides meaning without words and has the power to evoke a wide array of emotions. It is the visual piece of a brand that a customer grabs onto first, and the most memorable component they hold onto. Check out this Branded in Memory study done by signs.com. They asked 150 Americans to draw 10 famous logos from memory. They said the logos are “far from being stamped perfectly in our collective memory” and “largely exist as fuzzy visions in our mind's eye.” But when you step back and look at the collections of logos there is one main component that participants were largely accurate on – each company’s brand color(s). We can’t remember what the Starbucks or Walmart logos look like, but we can all remember they are green, or blue and yellow, respectively. Since color is such a powerful element of a brand, it is important to get it right. To do that, you need to understand how color and color profiles work as well as when to use each one.
There is a lot of science explaining how the world of color works (MODassic does a great job in this article) but hopefully this really high-level picture helps. There are two main color profiles, CMYK and RGB. CMYK, which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black, is the color profile used in 4-color printing processes. The more of each color you add to your files for the printing process (from 0% to 100%), the darker and deeper (ultimately moving toward rich black) your overall colors become.
RGB, which stands for Red, Green and Blue, is the color profile used for digital media and it works quite the opposite. The more red, green and blue you add to your RGB files (from 0 to 255), the lighter and brighter (ultimately moving toward white) your overall color becomes. Each RGB color is assigned a computer-friendly hexadecimal (or hex) code that is used in things like web development.
In addition to the two main color profiles, there is also the Pantone Matching System (PMS). It is a standardized color-matching system that uses 13 base pigments and black to create a wide range of colors. Most established brands include a Pantone or PMS color in their brand so printers can ensure accuracy in printing color-critical materials, regardless of what equipment is used.
Because colors are all created differently, they cannot just be converted from one color profile to the next – you will not achieve the results you are looking for. Luckily, this isn’t usually necessary, since a well-established brand should already have CMYK, RGB, Hex and Pantone colors selected. If you don’t have all of the information you need, the best plan is to go back to your client contact and ask for more. When you’re armed with the information, you are able to ask the right questions, get the right answers and get the best outcome.
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