How Pantone Became the Global Authority on Color

Pan­tone has declared “Peach Fuzz” the Col­or of the Year. This selec­tion, how­ev­er, rais­es the ques­tion: How did Pan­tone become the glob­al author­i­ty on col­or? Above, the Wall Street Jour­nal describes how Pan­tone began as a com­mer­cial print­ing com­pa­ny dur­ing the 1950s. Then, in the ear­ly 60s, it evolved into some­thing quite dif­fer­ent. Rec­og­niz­ing that its clients (and oth­er com­pa­nies) need to print mate­ri­als with con­sis­tent col­ors, Pan­tone cre­at­ed a uni­ver­sal col­or lan­guage, the Pan­tone Match­ing Sys­tem (PMS), where each col­or is assigned a spe­cif­ic num­ber. For instance, “Peach Fuzz” cor­re­sponds to #FFBE98. As Slate points out, this sys­tem ensured that “print­ers and clients would have a shared ref­er­ence when they talk to one another—an indus­try stan­dard, so that a col­or would mean the same thing all the way from a designer’s vision to the print­ed item.” Over the next 60 years, Pan­tone con­tin­ued to nur­ture the Pan­tone Match­ing Sys­tem, undoubt­ed­ly gen­er­at­ing sig­nif­i­cant rev­enue along the way and, more impor­tant­ly, mak­ing itself the arbiter of col­or world­wide.

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Relat­ed Con­tent 

A 900-Page Pre-Pan­tone Guide to Col­or from 1692: A Com­plete Dig­i­tal Scan

Prince Gets an Offi­cial Pur­ple Pan­tone Col­or

The Woman Who The­o­rized Col­or: An Intro­duc­tion to Mary Gartside’s New The­o­ry of Colours (1808)

The Vibrant Col­or Wheels Designed by Goethe, New­ton & Oth­er The­o­rists of Col­or (1665–1810)


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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.