The Pantone Color Matching System is largely a standardized color reproduction system. By standardizing the colors, different manufacturers in different locations can all refer to the Pantone system to make sure colors match without direct contact with one another.

One such use is standardizing colors in the CMYK process. The CMYK process is a method of printing color by using four inks—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. A majority of the world's printed material is produced using the CMYK process, and there is a special subset of Pantone colors that can be reproduced using CMYK. Those that are possible to simulate through the CMYK process are labeled as such within the company's guides.

However, most of the Pantone system's 1,114 spot colors cannot be simulated with CMYK but with 13 base pigments (14 including black) mixed in specified amounts.

A logo commissioned by the Government of Singapore to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the nation's independence. The usage instructions for the logo described it as being in Pantone Red 032 and White.

The Pantone system also allows for many special colors to be produced, such as metallics and fluorescents. While most of the Pantone system colors are beyond the printed CMYK gamut, it was only in 2001 that Pantone began providing translations of their existing system with screen-based colors. Screen-based colors use the RGB color model—red, green, blue—system to create various colors. The (discontinued) Goe system has RGB and LAB values with each color.

Pantone colors are described by their allocated number (typically referred to as, for example, "PMS 130"). PMS colors are almost always used in branding and have even found their way into government legislation and military standards (to describe the colors of flags and seals). In January 2003, the Scottish Parliament debated a petition (reference PE512) to refer to the blue in the Scottish flag as "Pantone 300". Countries such as Canada and South Korea and organizations such as the FIA have also chosen to refer to specific Pantone colors to use when producing flags. US states including Texas have set legislated PMS colors of their flags.[11] It has also been used in an art project by the Brazilian photographer Angelica Dass[12] which applies Pantone to the human skin color spectrum.

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