How to Select Your Pantone Guide

For the past several months, I have been trying and trying to determine which Pantone guide is right for me and sifting through what feels like a million options and opinions. I've wished there was a blog post that summed up Pantone color guides and options, but really couldn't find anything, so after going through the process myself, I'm sharing what I've learned! If you're wondering why color is so important, Pantone's research suggests that the correct color can increase brand recognition up to 87%. In product design, the right color can sell products 50-85% more efficiently. 


To start, the Pantone Studio app is a free resource from the App Store that is incredibly helpful and obviously easy to carry around. You can look through color guides, read Pantone blog posts, match color schemes to your pictures, and take live pictures to determine the Pantone colors of whatever is right in front of you! Truly the coolest. 

Now jumping into the printed guides, which are definitely investment, but again, can literally increase your brand and your client's brand awareness by up to 87%. 

Graphics vs Fashion

Pantone breaks their color systems down into two main categories— The Pantone Graphics System and The Fashion, Home and Interiors System. The Graphics System guides are best for paper, plastic, and digital and the Fashion, Home, and Interiors are designed for textiles, coating and pigments, and industrial design. To differentiate between the two systems, Pantone labels the Graphics system colors with C or U and the the Fashion system with TXC or TPG.

This post will mostly focus on the Graphics system, so let's dive in a little further.

Fan Guide vs Chip Guides

Chip Guides come in a binder-style with pages of colors that are perforated for easy sharing with clients, color matching, and more. Fan Guides are smaller and cheaper, but don't have an option to tear out and share colors.

My primary reason for purchasing a Pantone Guide was for my own color inspiration and brand creation, but since I work with clients around the world, I don't often share physical files with them. With this in mind, I decided to purchase a fan guide.

The three category options you have when selecting a Graphics fan guide are the following:

1. Formula Guide

Spot printing (when the single color is printed rather than a collection of colors printed together to create the one color) is where Pantone focuses the majority of their energy because it's the most accurate type of printing. The Formula Guide is the most popular Pantone guide featuring 1,867 Pantone Spot colors. It comes in both Coated and Uncoated versions (This speaks to the type of printing you most typically use), and contains the exact recipe to make each color. It's perfect for branding, logos, marketing materials, and spot printing.

The Starter Guide is similar to the Formula Guide but much smaller (featuring only 543 colors), but is great alternative for designers or students starting out or on a budget that want to understand the Pantone color system before diving into a bigger investment.

2. Color Bridge

The Color Bridge guide contains the spot colors from the Formula guide, but matches them side-by-side to the closest CMYK version of the color. It also includes the RGB color and the HEX codes which gives designers lots of options when designing anything that will be printed in CMYK. The guides themselves are more expensive, but since CMYK printing is much cheaper than Spot printing, it's the cheaper alternative in the long-run. When designing for small business clients that will likely never invest in spot printing, this is my go-to guide.

3. Extended Gamut

The Extended Gamut is the newest type of Pantone Guide and serves essentially as a middle ground between the Formula and Color Bridge guides. The colors are much closer to Pantone spot colors than CMYK is, and the guide includes the original Pantone color next to the Extended Gamut color with the 7-color printing formula and RGB codes.

The Sticker ChipsSuper Chips, and Super Swatch are also great tools to file away, especially for client work. You can select custom colors and have them printed out as stickers or larger chips to include with a brand presentation or something similar. 

Once I boiled the guides down to each of these categories, I had a much easier time selecting which was right for me. If you're only choosing one guide to purchase, the decisions you need to make are 1) Formula, Color Bridge, or Extended Gamut and 2) Coated or Uncoated. Amazon and eBay offer many cheaper options to purchase the guides, but it my opinion, the discounted rate isn't worth the faded colors or lack of newer color additions. 

I decided to go with the Color Bridge Uncoated Guide because I wanted the color options that the Color Bridge Guide has to offer and the majority of my clients don't have the financial resources to invest in spot printing.

If you have a Pantone guide, what do you use and why? I'd love to hear in the comments below! 


DesignLydia Kerr