Creating Brand Guidelines? Don’t Shortchange Yourself When It Comes to Color.

Tip for more complete Brand Guidelines: Remember all your media

For marketers and their designers, well-done Brand Guidelines are a godsend. They help establish the ground rules that protect investment in the Brand. In today’s world, many companies communicate using electronic visual media and every year, less is done in print. So just as with a business that may not do a lot of online marketing and forget about setting standards for graphics and color for Web or video, it’s easy to overlook print media that may not be used very often. But leaving the task for later can become a headache that doesn’t have to happen.

Your designer who’s establishing color palettes for your brand is the first and best person to think of to help you make sure all your brand colors are specified for all media: RGB, Hexadecimal, 4/color Print, and Pantone PMS spot colors. In creating brand guidelines documents for you and providing specifications, they have already established color families, hierarchies and rules of use in your most top-of-mind media. You’ve already invested in their time and skill. Save time, and possibly your Brand integrity, by making sure all media and color systems are included in your Brand Guidelines document.

Why is it worth taking the time for colors you’ll hardly use?

Sometimes, if left unassigned and unspecified, the color of one project can create a big black eye.  A vendor may choose a color for medium such as silk screening or solid spot color that they think is ‘close’ to the example in a PDF guidelines document that specified color in other media, but not spot print color. “Best Guess” is not an accurate way to specify color. It’s a far better investment of time at the front end of brand guidelines creation if you include complete color specifications in your Brand Guidelines documents that list different additive and subtractive color systems and the most common ink and color mix systems.

What gets left behind most often, and what does it take to specify colors well?

The world of color in marketing communications continues to change at a blinding pace. As little as a decade ago, the color system most alien to veteran graphic designers was the hexadecimal color system.  The new science it involved and the lack of control in web viewing devices scared the heck outta most, frankly. Now, since so much design work has shifted to Web, and the lion’s share of paper printing has gone digital and toner-based, the one-time standard for color, the PMS (Pantone Matching System) spot color, is often overlooked and left out of brand guidelines documents. And it’s no wonder — fewer projects are printed using spot inks. Digital printing most times renders a spot color unneeded.

To specify spot colors, it takes online tools that help you compare digital colors to CMYK (four-color process) by formula, and a good set of PMS print swatch books is important. But it’s worth taking two steps:

  • First, for CMYK color checking, the extra step of having digital proofs with swatches of your brand colors on paper, produced by a professional print-proofing house.
  • Second, for spot color checking a set of PMS ink ‘draw downs’ on paper from an ink house or lithographic printer for your brand colors.

The swatches, paper proofs and ink draw-downs, when viewed along with your designer’s most calibrated computer monitor, you will be able to confirm that your brand colors pass muster for consistency across media.

Sleep better at night, and dream in color (or black and white if you prefer).

Even with standards to follow, color can be a touchy subject. People (read: decisionmakers and customers) have visceral reactions to color that can be unpredictable (Remember the white/gold vs. black/blue dress meme a while back?). Why go through the trouble of editing and adding to color standards more than once if you don’t have to.

So just as other aspects of branding should go through vetting and approval, color should not be overlooked and should be specified in your guidelines as completely as possible. No one wants to make the choice between getting stuck with boxes full of unacceptable branded merchandise, or going back through the entire brand approval process just to get OKs on a color. Time is money, so the decision to take care of color details in advance when setting up brand guidelines would seem to be rather black and white. Or Black and Blue.


What part of your brand creates the most frustration for you? Share in the comments below!

I’m a creative problem-solver helping clients who use Direct Marketing but need more effective lead generation and deeper customer relationships. You can learn more about me on LinkedIn.


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