Colour Me Happy: A Quick and Simple Guide to Colour Systems

RGB, HEX, CMYK and PMS – sometimes it feels like designers are speaking a different language.

In my experience, colour systems is an area which can prompt lots of questions, so today’s post is all about demystifying things with a quick guide to the different colour systems you might hear your graphic or web designer talking about.


I suppose the short answer is because colour is complicated. When we take in a beautiful view or scene – a bed of wildflowers, a stormy sea, leaves on the turn from green to autumnal red – our eyes and brain perform incredibly sophisticated processes in microseconds in order to register those colours.

The different colour systems designers use – RGB, HEX, CMYK and PMS – are all, simply speaking, the means by which we attempt to match up the colours we see in the world with those we present on our website, our flyers or other materials. Each system is matched to a particular medium or format – just read on to find out more about each.


RGB stands for red, green and blue. These are the colours which light-emitting screens (i.e. your computer or phone) use or ‘mix’ to reproduce your desired colours.

Each colour has a value ranging from 0 to 255. An RGB value of 0, 0, 0 will give you black, whereas 255, 255, 255 will give you white. Everything else is somewhere in between. Remember learning about the colour wheel in primary school and mixing red, blue and yellow paints? This is similar, except we’re mixing light.



You could call HEX a sister language to RGB – there’s no intentional difference, but rather HEX and RGB are different ways of communicating the same red, green and blue colour equation.

HEX is commonly used for websites and in coding. Instead of 3-figure value as we see in RGB, however, a HEX value is a 6-figure code made up from numbers and letters. Make sure your designer lets you know your HEX codes just in case you need them for a web developer further down the line. Alternatively you can use online tools like to work it out.


This colour system is used when printing using ink, so whatever system you’ve used for your digital files it will need to be converted into CMYK if you’re printing on paper, card or anything else .

CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and key, the key plate being the plate which contains the details in the image. In CMYK, it’s usually done with black ink which is why some people (mistakenly) think ‘k’ stands for blac(k). And unlike RGB, the colours in CMYK are subtractive, meaning they get darker as you blend them together .

If you use lots of bright, vivid colours – and certainly if you rely on fluorescent or neon shades – you might find you struggle to produce these exactly in CMYK, which has a narrower range of colour than RGB. Also, neon shades rely on a light-emitting screen in order to be ‘true to life’, which isn’t an option when printing on paper and card – just a heads-up. This is when you have to use spot colours, also known as Pantone, which come ready mixed and are printed as a separate colour. Read on to find out more.


And last but not least we have PMS, which is used by designers and printers to ensure effective colour-matching. If you use a Pantone shade, it won’t matter if you get your T-shirts printed in Tottenham and your mugs printed in Milton Keynes – the colours should look the same on both.


There are over 1000 Pantone colours to choose from, including neons, pastels and metallics – although do be aware than using a Pantone or ‘spot colour can cost a little more. Usually printers have a five colour machine set up for CMYK plus a spot colour, so choosing Pantone means setting up a separate plate. However, lots of clients feel that paying a little more is worth it for the certainty of being able to reproduce their brand colours consistently wherever they go.

So there you have it: a whistle-stop tour of colour systems and which one it’s best to use when. If you have any questions about them – or anything else branding-related – don’t hesitate to drop me a line via my contact page or on email via

Seeing what you’re thinking with Pinterest

Pinterest is one of my favourite tools as a designer: I use it as a visual search engine to find creative inspiration for projects of all kinds. With millions of ideas just a click away, it’s great for sparking inspiration, collaborating with clients – and, best of all, it’s completely free!

Pinterest newbie? Never fear. Read on to find out more about how I use Pinterest to inspire, discover a theme and move a project away from ‘messy’ to ‘fabulously creative and coherent’!


You might not have much of a design brief at first–you might begin by simply pinning logos or other images that you like. Or you might have the vaguest of ideas, let’s say for example, a leaning towards a simple, striking Art Deco-style font. Open up the ‘Search’ bar on Pinterest and type in all of the related terms you can think of.

For example, I might begin with ‘Art Deco’, or search for ‘Art Deco font’. I might also use descriptors such as The Great Gatsby, 1920s, Prohibition, Jazz, Jazz Era and so on. Be aware that Pinterest is clever: when you enter ‘Art Deco’ into the search field, like Google, it anticipates what you’re about to type, giving you a list of related search terms. Just entering ‘Art Deco’, for example, throws up suggestions like ‘Art Deco pattern’, ‘Art Deco engagement ring’, ‘Art Deco interior’ and so on.

You might find yourself searching using more and more obscure terms as you discover what you like: think ‘1920s tattoos’, ‘F Scott Fitzgerald book covers’, ‘The Candlelight Club’ and the like. It truly is a rabbithole–but a good rabbithole. My advice is don’t be too prescriptive; be open to exploring different ideas and, at first, pin indiscriminately. Like it? Pin it, and trust that a pattern will begin to emerge.

How to pin? Select ‘Save’ on the image and choose the ‘board’ you’d like to pin to. Alternatively, create a new board, and give it a name: ‘Website Inspiration’ or ‘Branding Ideas for XXXXX’. You can make your board private if you want to protect it from prying eyes, but do make sure you add me so that I can start to see the direction of your ideas.


Once you’ve pinned to your heart’s content, it’s time to take a step back and look at your board as a whole. What stands out? Do particular colours or patterns dominate? What’s the overall aesthetic – detailed and intricate, or strikingly minimalist? Have you gone for a classic style, or are there elements of a modern twist? Look at your images and ask yourself which is your favourite, or what specifically drew you to a particular pin. I’ll do this too, and together we’ll tease out the key elements you want for your own branding or design work.

As you start to interrogate your mood board, you may find you want to delete certain images. That’s fine! The delete button is your friend; it can help refine your choices and make your overall desired aesthetic clearer.

Also, don’t forget you can go outside of Pinterest for more inspiration. As your ideas become clearer, you might want to search for specific images using, for example, Google’s image search. Lots of websites already have the ‘Pin It’ function installed, or you can download Pinterest’s ‘Pin It’ button for your browser so that you can save just about any image you see online – more info here.

Pinterest Inspiration Typography Board On Laptop

One of the most useful things about Pinterest is that it allows me to work with my clients. Once you’ve added me as a collaborator to your board (or vice versa, if you want me to get ahead with pinning), we can look at ideas together and talk through how they might be adapted for your branding and across different brand assets. From there, I can ask questions and make suggestions before starting to draft some branding routes.

I’m a visual thinker – unsurprisingly, given my line of work – and seeing what my client is thinking is worth a hundred written explanations. I love Pinterest because it gives me a direct line to your imagination, and that’s an incredibly powerful thing.

Make sure you follow me – I continuously add to my inspiration boards.

Looking for a new logo or some refreshed branding? I’d love to chat about your ideas. Drop me a message on or get in touch via my contact page.

Working with a designer

In my 20+ years of working as a designer, I’ve been asked one question more than any other: “What’s your process?”

Perhaps working with a graphic designer is completely new to you. But even if you’ve enlisted the support of a professional in the past, everyone works in slightly different ways and, of course, everyone wants a sense of what to expect.

Committing to a graphic designer can feel like a big step, whether it’s to establish a brand new identity or to refresh an existing one. The more information you can glean about what the experience will be like, the better.

So what is my process? Read on to find out…

It all starts with a conversation – exchanging ideas with Andrea Morrison. Photography by Alice Lodge

I use this phrase a lot because it’s true: it all starts with a conversation. I want to learn as much about you and your business or existing brand as I can. Your story – who you are, how you got here, your values – is a rich source of information for me and guides the whole process from start to finish.

The first thing I do with a new client is schedule a conversation – either in person or over the phone – and I use a simple template as we talk, to ensure we cover all of your wants and needs. It also means we don’t miss any of the practical or logistical details – timing estimates, deadlines etc.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a super-clear vision of what you want – some clients do and that’s great, but others are less certain. Trust the process – it will emerge!


Once we’ve had our initial conversation, I dive deep into my research. I’ll look at your industry and competitors to get an idea of sector norms and trends, with one eye on what looks unoriginal or overdone. I want your design to be original, memorable and feel like ‘you’ – not a pale imitation of something someone else has already done.

This involves pulling lots of references together, often through virtual pinboarding. I always ask clients if they’d like to be part of this process, setting up collaborative private boards on Pinterest so that we can share ideas and inspiration.


Once I’ve pulled together all of my ideas, I decide on three different routes to present. I combine some initial logo designs with some more refined moodboards in order to give you an idea of where the concept could go.

In my experience, three really is the magic number. Usually there’s a clear winner and often clients ask for particular elements from the different routes to be adapted and integrated somehow into the winning design, which makes for an even stronger final concept.

This stage is really important and shouldn’t be rushed. Sometimes a design speaks very clearly to a client and they’re immediately happy with it, but more often people need an opportunity to digest it, ask questions and ask family and friends for their thoughts.

The most important thing? Communicate clearly and honestly to make sure you get the design that really elevates your brand and speaks to your ideal client.


Once you’ve decided on your chosen route, I then develop it further. Refining the design can take a few rounds of feedback and tweaks, so please do expect this – it’s a perfectly normal (and exciting!) part of the process.

Once you’re happy with the design, I then convert it into the different file types required for print or online and apply it to the specific applications you require – for example, business cards, social media assets, packaging and so on.

Depending on the assets you require, this might involve some collaboration with another service provider. I work with a number of tried and trusted businesses, including Laura McDonagh for copywriting services, Mits Griffin for web design and various photographers and local printers. Sometimes clients already have another supplier on board, e.g. a photographer, or I can source images myself if required – just ask.


And finally, I’m not a ‘sign off and never speak again’ kind of designer – I’m here to hold your hand throughout the application and launch process. For me, this is the best bit – taking the design out of the abstract and showing it off to the world!

Any questions, worries or last-minute wobbles – I’m here!

Looking for a new visual identity or wanting to update your brand assets? I’d love to hear your ideas. Drop me a line on or via my contact page.