Color Systems 101: From RGB to Hex

When discussing the most important traits of any attractive design, color surely rates among the top three. Selecting the right color can make or break your messaging, whether you’re designing a business card, graphics for your service vehicle or a billboard.

This is why it is so important to understand all the terms that designers use around color. Here are the four most common color systems, an explanation of what each means and where you will most likely encounter them.


The letters stand for red, green and blue. By altering the percentages of each of the three contributing colors, you get different results that cover the entire spectrum. RGB is used mostly for on-screen purposes. You might see that your computer monitor settings include this term, or perhaps your photo-editing software uses it.


These letters stand for cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Cyan is bright blue. Magenta is bright pink. Again, certain combinations of these four colors – or often just some of them — will create all other colors. CMYK is most common on printed materials. If you take a close look at a cereal box, for example, you’ll see registration marks with each of the four colors.


More commonly known as Pantone colors, this abbreviation is for Pantone Matching System. Pantone is a universal color matching system that’s used for everything from house paint to fabric. Each color has a number and a name so that everyone understands the exact color they are referencing or reproducing. Pantone is well known for releasing its “color of the year.”


Based on a six-digit sequence that includes three numbers and three letters, Hex colors are mostly used in computer languages such as HTML and CSS. These numbers are especially important to graphic designers and are often used in conjunction with RGB hues.

No matter which system you use, one caveat remains: colors appear different on different platforms and even between monitors. Every color has a specific value in all four systems, but they may look much different depending on monitor settings, lighting, glare or other influences. The most reliable way to ensure you are getting the shade you expect on a printed item is to do a test print before committing to a larger run.

2018-03-21T15:29:38+00:00By |Websites|