Matching brand colours across retail environments

Your brand colours are important. They are an immediate visual tool and vital part of your identity. Brand colours can evoke positive emotions, give a good first impression, and cement your company’s values in the mind of customers.

You need to know that the public can recognise you wherever they are, flicking through a magazine, wandering down a high street, or scrolling through their social media. Be it an exhibition stand, or a flagship store, brand colours create a consistency of experience.

Sounds great, huh?

Unfortunately, ensuring brand colours match across all of your retail environments isn’t as easy as it sounds. Within the sign industry we have two main ways of doing this: physical colour referencing (using the good old human eye), and technology (using the Delta E scale). Let’s delve into the difference between the two.

Pantone Swtch Books

But what is a Delta E, you may ask?

Simply put, it's how we measure the difference between colours that are very close together. The lower the Delta E score, the better a match two colours are. The higher the score, the further apart they are on the colour spectrum.

The Naked Eye

Funnily enough, this one has been around for the longest. It’s still the most common way of matching colours, and it’s used by most small to medium sized sign making businesses.

How it works:

The main tools needed for this process are swatch books or colour chips, usually from Pantone, RAL, or British Standard Colours. The sign company will print a test chart, compare this to the swatch book (or standard), and then manually amend and reprint the chart until they have a close match.


This method is pretty cost effective. The initial investment for a company is low, and swatch books or chips for whichever standard you prefer are easily accessible.


“Great! Let’s go with that then!” You’re probably thinking. But it’s not quite that simple. Here’s why:

  • Relying on the naked eye is subjective. Every person sees colours slightly differently.
  • This process is inaccurate, as swatch books are already several DeltaE’s out when they’re printed, and they fade over time.
  • Because of fading and natural print variance, even if two people think they’re looking at the same colour in matching swatch books, they’re really not.
  • The colour matches made with this process only apply to the media used. So, if you’ve matched colours for a banner, then you’ll have to do it again for a sign. This will obviously affect cost.
  • You have to do the matching manually for each colour in a job, so you can waste hours just matching colours before you get onto anything else!
  • This means that the money you save with a cheap set up will quickly be written off by increased labour costs.
GMG Color

The Digital System

The digital system of colour matching is much less common, and is more typically used by larger sign makers.

How it works:

The initial setup of this system is a little more complex than ordering a bunch of swatch books and finding a shelf to keep them on. On day one of your colour match journey you need to:

  1. Install a colour server that contains all of the colour standards (those created by Pantone, RAL, and British Standard Colours).
  2. Print test charts across all media that your company deals with.
  3. Scan these test charts with a spectrometer to measure the difference between the colours.
  4. Calibrate the system.

The bonus is that, once this initial setup is done, the only thing you need to do for each project is: press print, and make yourself a cup of coffee!


  • Taking advantage of digital capabilities when matching brand colours means that you can be sure you’ll print the same colour every time.
  • Because the result is measured with a spectrometer, you get quantifiable information of how precise your match is - no room for human error, the result is objective.
  • You don’t need to run loads of test prints, which reduces labour costs (and the impact on the environment).
  • Perhaps most importantly when you need signage for different retail environments, in different media, and with different setups, the software compensates for all of this. The colours on your external signage will match your banners, which will match your POS signage, and even your pens!


As wonderful as this technology is, it does come with a high setup cost. The equipment required to match your colours so exactly is high tech and correspondingly expensive.

Which colour matching system is for me?

If you’re looking for one banner in a particular colour for when you take your homemade soap company to the local market, then the traditional colour matching system of the naked eye and Pantone swatches will serve you well!

But, if you're looking at spec’ing out multiple retail environments in recognisable and consistent brand colours, then we think you need something a little more powerful.

Here at Butler Signs we are fanatical about colour. We know how important it is for you to feel confident that your signage represents you and your brand wherever it’s found. That’s why we invested in a comprehensive digital colour management system. It’s also why we employ world leaders in colour management, GMG to help us look after you and your brand identity.

Put your colour in our hands, and we’ll ensure that your customers recognize you from Texas to Tunbridge Wells.

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