They're mostly used as a printing (like, physically printed) color guide in which you can print colors otherwise unprintable via CMYK or reproducible digitally. To do this you have to use mixtures of what's known as Pantone Basic Colors, which are proprietary ink colors that only Pantone licenses and what you pretty much have had to use for the last decades if you wanted to print an exact color. Specified, of course, by a proprietary Pantone color formula using their inks.
So, for example, if you want a nice orange in CMYK land, you specify a number between 0 and 100 of both magenta and yellow. In Pantone land, you specify PANTONE 164, which is a 3-ink mixture of Pantone Yellow, Pantone Warm Red and Pantone Transparent White in specified quantities. You can't match nearly a third of Pantone Colors any other way than to use Pantone inks. CMYK just wont match the vibrancy or depth.
It's become the default. Every company, every sports team, pretty much every logo out there has a brand guide that specifies the colors by Pantone numbers. To really show what you're specifying when you tell your client 'Pantone 2995 U', you need to buy an assortment of swatch books from Pantone in which every color is printed on uncoated (U) and coated (C) stock, proprietary metallics, specialty colors, etc. They run a few hundred dollars each depending on what you need.
The value Pantone brings to the digital world is that it's the worldwide default color reference standard, and that most Pantone colors can be defined closely enough via CMYK, RGB, Hex, whatever. Pantone will sell you a solid to process swatch book and/or just a book of process color (CMYK) helpfully numbered with Pantone's proprietary color combinations.
So it goes.
Last edited by 709 : 2022-01-12 at 20:30.