Large corporations have succeeded in something that seems impossible: registering a specific color as a trademark. These companies are indeed easy to guess even without seeing their logos: magenta telecommunications posters, mauve chocolate bars, brown delivery trucks, or robin’s egg blue jewelry boxes?
Apparently, when the color becomes synonymous with the brand, a company can claim its ownership and register it as a trademark, preventing other companies from using it, too. How is that possible? According to the EU law regarding Community Trade Mark, “a trademark may consist of any sign capable of being represented graphically”. In other words, if you have a distinctive and recognisable Pantone or RAL colour, you can officially make it yours.
Pantone started back in the 1950s in New Jersey, as a small commercial printing company of Levine brothers. A couple of years later, in 1963 it was bought by one of the employees (plot twist!), who will totally revolutionize our approach to matching colours.
Lawrence Herbert, was working as a part-time employee in Levine Brothers company, saving up money for his medical school. Yet his knowledge in biology and chemistry took a different direction than medicine — with this knowledge, Herbert developed an easier way to match the printing pigments and produce the colored ink.
He reduced the number of colors mixed in Pantone and introduced a simple palette mixed with only 12 pigments instead of 60, which was a long-awaited solution from the graphic designers and the industry, who experienced multiple errors, inconsistent colors and simply the design work was all out the window. It was the first color matching system, referred to as Pantone Guides, which looks like a cardboard flip catalogue of the range of colors, associated with each other.
Today, it is still used as a standard for the printing industry. With the color system introduced by Herbert, it became easy to communicate with the printers and achieve the precise color, without surprises, as now every color had a specific code. In such a way Pantone becomes the universal language in the design industry: it is now simple to classify colors, differentiate between 50 shades of red, communicate the right tint or shade by code, and match colors with the color catalogue and the printed output.