Time to read: 3 min

CMF, which stands for Color, Material & Finish, is an area of specialty within the greater industrial design discipline.

At large, design-centric hardware companies, CMF designers work alongside industrial designers and product design engineers to make sure that the chromatic and tactile identities of the product are on brand and in vogue. On smaller teams, a lone industrial designer might take on this role.

During the design phase, CMF is often communicated with stakeholders via renderings and descriptive language. However, when an appearance model or production units need to be made, CMF needs to be communicated more precisely so that there’s no room for misinterpretation. In this article, we’ll introduce some terms you can use for lean, effective CMF communication.


Pantone Matching System (PMS) is the single most effective way to communicate color; every manufacturer worth working with owns the Pantone formula guide.

At $155 for both the coated and uncoated color fans, I recommend every product design team gets their own set.

Pantone Matching System

Pantone also sells a book of opaque and transparent plastics. A complete set costs several thousand dollars, but because the small injection molding factories on a budget will not have these, it may not be as useful as the ink-on-paper formula guide. If you want a factory to refer to the plastic chips, you might have to provide them.

I’ll be the first to admit that matching a printed swatch to plastic has limitations. If you want to get plastic chips for reference, I recommend using the formula guide as a starting point, finding the corresponding plastic number here, and buying single chips here for $6 each, to double check that you like it. Here’s a Japanese online store where you can glance at all the plastic colors.

In Europe, the RAL color matching system is more prevalent, and Chinese manufacturers often have both Pantone and RAL reference fans.


Material is fairly straightforward. For metals, designate the specific alloy—here, mechanical properties (Al 6061, Al 7075, SS 304, etc.) are the driving factor for most people.

For plastics, designate the type of resin you want (e.g., UV-resistant ABS, food-safe HDPE), and work with your manufacturer to find the exact resin. I like to get a few recommendations from the manufacturer, then read the data sheets to make the final pick. You don’t want to do too much work by yourself on this subject, only to find out that your dream resin has a twelve-week lead time and an unreasonable minimum order quantity.


Luckily, injection molding finish options are nowhere as numerous as the choice of colors for resins. The most basic finish designators are SPI (Society of Plastic Industry) standards:

SPI standards

B-1 is the most common, no-frills cosmetic surface finish and C-1 is typically for non-cosmetic internal surfaces. A-class surfaces are very expensive, and if this is a requirement, make sure that the tool steel is very hard, or the mirror finish will degrade quickly.

In addition to the SPI finishes, there are a myriad of in-mold texture options available. You can get anything from a brushed texture to a fake leather look.

Mold-tech and Yik-Sang are two big names in the mold texturing business. Mold makers send the finished tools to these two companies for texturing, at an additional cost and lead time. Mold-tech and Yik-Sang catalogues are both quite pricey, but we own a set at Fictiv, so if you think this process might be for you, come by and talk to us!

In addition to in-mold finishes, painted finish is also an option for both metal and plastic parts. Glossy, matte, and soft-touch are all possible.

CMF Document Example

Equipped with industry terms, you can now make a CMF document that precisely captures the decorative qualities of your product. Use a combination of text and CAD or rendered images to call out different CMF components on a single product.

Here’s a simple example:

sample CMF document

These techniques for communicating CMF work for both production parts and one-off appearance models. We hope this information will help you achieve high aesthetic standards painlessly!