Which Pantone Guide do I need?

If I had a penny for everyyyy time I was asked about Pantone Guides 😉 I figured it made sense to share my thoughts below, on why YES you DO need a Pantone Guide and my suggestions for which you should invest in and why.

Some background for context:

You already know that I worked in a bunch of big-brand agencies growing up as designer (I’m now 10 years into this industry) and so my advice comes via this very specific, packaging-based, packaging-experienced lens.

I’ve never known a design agency WITHOUT a Pantone Guide – it was always a staple piece of equipment and the literal BIBLE OF COLOUR. With that in mind, I’m a stickler for doing things the right and ‘proper’ way.

Lesson 1: Process is everything with packaging.

So, back to the question I’m asked first:
Do I really need a Pantone Guide?

If you’re a brand and packaging designer – or work in print in any capacity – ABSOLUTELY YES.

Why? As we already know, digital colour spaces are built on RGB, right? A blend of Red, Green and Blue, providing infinite opportunities.

With print, we don’t necessarily have the same, infinite possibilities. What we see on screen cannot alllllways be achieved in print. Furthermore, screen calibrations vary wildly – what I see on my screen MAY NOT BE what the printer sees … or the client. (Do we even know for sure that our EYES see colour the same?!)

This is where the Pantone Guide comes in.

We use the Pantone book as our physical point of reference when it comes to colour output. We choose the colour in the book and use this to SHOW the printer and the client our target. (Or, as I call it in The Brand and Packaging Design Course, a ‘Match To.’)

(This is also why I actively encourage my clients to purchase or borrow Pantone Guides too – especially if they’re planning lots of product launches with lots of SKUS & colour variants. It helps when we’re all on the same page.)

“But everyone prints digital these don’t they?”
“Does anyone even print with spot ink anymore?”

HMM well, no, not everyone prints digital and YES people still print with spot inks (Pantones) Sometimes people print 4 colour process too.

But that’s besides the point.

For me, the Pantone Guide serves a greater purpose, irrespective of the print output of the project. Whichever method we’re using, we still use the Pantone book as a reference point – it’s the best way of making sure alllll parties have SEEN THE ACTUAL COLOUR that we’re aiming for.

Sorry for the caps, I’m passionate.

When printing digitally – the printer can make adjustments to tweak the reproduction to ensure the colour actually printed looks as close to the target as possible. When printing 4 colour process – the printer can adjust the CMYK values on press, again, working to the target as a reference point.

All of this to say: always choose a Pantone!


I have the standard Formula Guide. It’s not as fancy as the Bridge book, but I’ve never felt like I was missing out. Of course, Uncoated and Coated are both needed. (Choose the one you need, according to the stock to be printed.)

The Formula Guide is the staple fan book, which highlights the actual colour formulations for properly mixing all Pantone Spot colour inks.

Then there’s the Colour Bridge, the fancier, more grown up friend. This book shows you the CMYK equivalent of the Pantone you just selected. Meaning, you can see the subtle differences between the Pantone ink itself, versus the CMYK mix.

I’d recommend the Bridge book if you have the extra ££££ to invest, otherwise, the Formula Guide is totally okay!

Then the absolute cherry on top to compliment either of the above: the CHIP BOOK.

Oh, the Chips are SO good.

This book makes selecting a colour so easy, because you can physically take the colours out of the book and place them next to one another. It also means you can post the chips to your client and have them approve the colour too and you can buy replacement sheets if you run out.

Lastly, a nice to have, and a book I find super useful:

Pastel and Neons – Pastels are tricky to match, and so I use this book often. Neons can’t be achieved with CMYK though, so these would need to be printed with Spot inks.



Friend,  I know you may have already registered or even taken the course *high five*  but if not, here’s the waitlist to jump on the list ahead of the launch next month.

There will be a limited-time entry price for those on the waitlist. 😉

Plus we have new guests lined up for our monthly sessions too, which I’ll be announcing shortly.

Think you might have more Qs about packaging? I encourage you to join my free group – Packaging People – to ask away. There’s a lovely bunch of packaging people in there. 🙂

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