This year Pantone celebrates it’s 50 year anniversary. When I started in the biz I often heard the term “Pantone” thrown around on sets and production meetings but I wasn’t really sure what it meant. Pantone is simply a standardized colour matching system, or PMS (pantone matching system) for short. The PMS is made up of thousands of proprietary colours invented by Pantone. Most importantly, the PMS standardizes these colours so different manufacturers, printers, designers, etc., in different locations can all refer to the Pantone system to make sure colours match irregardless of the equipment used or without having direct contact with one another.
How can a cinematographer use the PMS? In a couple of important ways. Art directors and set designers will often refer to the Pantone system when designing sets and furnishings. Why waste time and effort trying to describe the hue of a “light red” you want when you can reference Pantone chip 19-1663? Right off the bat, everyone is on the same page and there is no ambiguity left for chance.
I’ve also used the PMS for lighting studio Cyc walls with LED lights. In this case I picked a Pantone colour I liked and showed it to all the decision makers. When the colour was approved, I then found the equivalent R-G-B value that could be keyed into a series of RGB LED lamps thereby reproducing an exact colour match. Voila! No surprises and everyone got what they expected! This is not only faster than gelling lights, it’s also way cheaper than buying gels and hanging heavy tungsten lamps. Not only that, if there was a last minute change I could pick a new colour and key in the new RGB value. No wasted gel or time.
There are many online calculators that convert pantone codes to R-G-B values. There is also a handy iphone app that lets you have the whole PMS library with you. For a real world illustration of how Pantone works in photography, this photographer went out and matched pantone colours to real world things. Factoid: Pantone was purchased in October 2007, by X-Rite supplier of colour measurement instruments and software, for $180 million. It seems kind of cheap and under valued to me.