Pantone Is More Than Just a Hue


Pantone is more than just a hue. In 1963, Lawrence Herbert changed the way ink manufacturers around the world generated shades. He created a color matching standard that has become the universal language of color, as reported by The New York Times.

Herbert recognized a widespread need for identifying shades. He created a retail display that enabled women to choose a tint of pantyhose. He hand-mixed the hues himself because it proved impossible to find the exact shades he needed. One supplier’s idea of a particular shade varied from that of another. According to The New York Times, Herbert saw a demand for a unified system that identified colors. Instead of asking for daffodil yellow, a client could instruct their printer to use Pantone 123. The standardized shade ensured that the color printed the same shade every time. He supplied sample color swatches to ink manufacturers and explained to them how the system worked. By 1970, Pantone made over $1,000,000 per year in licensing fees.

When Jens Mortensen of The New York Times asked Herbert how he determined which hues to develop, Herbert claimed his consultant would build a committee who discovered what colors showed up in Milan and Paris. Herbert said, “It seems that a lot of designers all decided that coffee brown might be a good color in the same year.”

What started out as popular in the advertising world spread into unexpected areas, such as the food industry. Ben & Jerry even had a color defined for their brownie. Herbert told The New York Times, “I have matched color charts for wine. I matched color charts for anemia blood samples and for walnuts and strawberries and goldfish.”

Herbert’s daughter, Lisa, is the company’s vice president of consumer licensing. When Mortensen asked her how they determine the color of the year, she said they shop the trade shows worldwide to see what comes down the runway. They also track the sales of their color swatches to determine which ones are popular.

Even high-end fashion designers use this popular color-matching system to ensure quality. The New York Times reported Calvin Klein pinning a color chip in the kitchen to indicate the exact color his coffee should be. Min Lew, creative director and managing director of Base’s New York office, described Pantone as the color authority in fashion. He claimed that when Uniqlo stacks their colorful shirts like a color chip, they are easily recognized.

According to CoDesign, every year, fashion designers, interior designers, and advertising agencies eagerly await the company’s color of the year announcement. Pantone is more than just a hue; it is a navigation system for trends.

On the company website, Laurie Pressmen, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, said, “For us, it was coming up with a way to communicate what’s taking place in our language. It’s our way of chiming in. We speak a language of color.” The company claims that they monitor the cultural pulse and choose the best color to match the feel. This year, for 2016, they tried something different. They named two compatible colors for their color of the year. The colors of Rose Quartz and Serenity were chosen to depict mindfulness as well as well-being to counter modern-day stresses.

In 1970, the company developed a system for skin tones to aid photo retouchers. This endeavor branched out to the cosmetic industry and was even incorporated by a sperm bank, so that donors could enhance their profiles by choosing their exact skin color, reported The New York Times.

Over the years, Pantone has provided more than just a hue. They have created a universal language of color that benefits multiple industries.

By Rowena Portch
Edited by Cathy Milne

New York Times: Who Made That Pantone Chip?
CoDesign: How Pantone Became the Definitive Language for Color
Pantone: Introducing Rose Quartz and Serenity

One thought on “Pantone Is More Than Just a Hue

  1. Rowena, I am so proud of this article! I did not know how Pantone started, even though when I worked in the printing field we used it all the time. That was a long time ago.

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