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Using Pantone Color Codes For Touch Up Paint Applications



People, including some manufacturers, sometimes specify Pantone color codes as a touch-up solution for products. Does this work? Unfortunately, it doesn't work very well at all. Because MyPerfectColor may be the only company on earth that not only provides any Pantone color in paint but also in as few as a single brush cap bottle or paint pen, we receive multiple requests to use Pantone colors for touch-up paint each day. Sadly, Pantone colors do not work well for touch-up solutions. We would be far happier if it did.

But why? People are often confused when we tell them not to buy a Pantone color for a touch-up. They think, "but the large reputable manufacturer told me the exact code?"

There are multiple reasons why:

  • First, Pantone colors, and especially the PMS colors most often used, are not exact codes. While on the face of it Pantone colors appear to be extremely specific, they are not nearly specific enough to be used for a touch-up application. There is a master spectral value for a Pantone color that is extremely precise, but this is theoretical. Colors need to be made from physical standards and the color tolerances of Pantone PMS color standards are not tight enough for touch-up applications. The Pantone Matching System was designed as an ink standard and the color swatches across color books vary too much to be used as a touch-up standard.


    Second, when it comes to touch-up applications, the sheen (how shiny the coating is) is just as important, and possibly even more important, than the color. Pantone codes do not include any information about sheen. MyPerfectColor offers 5 standard sheens ranging from flat to gloss, but the chance of any one of these precisely matching your production finish is low.

    Lastly, how was the specific Pantone color code selected? We've found that there are three primary methods used to determine the color code:

    Method One: A Pantone color was specified for the product in the design process. This is common. Pantone, due to its huge selection of bright colors, is the color standard for marketing, branding, and product development. Products are often specified as Pantone colors during the design process so it makes sense that manufacturers would tell customers to use a Pantone color code for touch up. But, there is a big difference between the intended color and the actual color of products rolling off the production line. Pantone colors are not only difficult to reproduce, but as discussed above, Pantone color standards also vary. As a result, the intended design of the product is usually not the same as the actual color of the finished product. It's probably close, but that's not good enough for touch-up paint.

    Method Two: Someone just picked a color by flipping through a color book and picking the closest one. For all the above reasons, this method is far from perfect. It is very difficult to eye a color precisely enough for a touch-up, and unless a Pantone color exactly matches (remember how colors vary across books), you are starting off with a poor proxy.

    Method Three: Someone used the web and digital color values to find the color. Someone may have scanned the color with an inexpensive colorimeter like Nix, or worse, eyed it up using side-by-side images on the web, and used color values like hex or RGB or any of dozens of other measures, and then found the closest Pantone color to that. This is the worst method by far as the digital color values are not the color. They are just digital representations. Most of those values are device-dependent and will yield different results on every measurement or display device.

Touch-up paint needs to be extremely precise. The tiniest difference can stand out like a bright flashing light. Over the years, we have seen hundreds of examples of production parts compared to the supposed Pantone color code, and 99% of the time the colors are not even close.

Pantone colors are reproduced in paint by matching to a color swatch in a Pantone book - not to any product.

The only way to provide a true touch-up solution for your product is to precisely match the sheen and color of a production part or control standard. Unfortunately, there isn't an effective way to 'spec' the color well enough to produce a touch-up without a physical part.

Learn more about our paint color matching service.

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