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RGB/CMYK/HEX to Pantone Reference for Print and Solid Chip

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  • RGB/CMYK/HEX to Pantone Reference for Print and Solid Chip

    Hi there,

    My name is Clem and I'm originally industrial designer.
    Recently I have been designing a whole new branding for a start-up I'm working with, and obviously there is a lot I need to figure out still. Everything was going great so far, but as it happened to me before, I am now struggling with the color referencing... So I decided it was time to come here and ask for real advices about the best way(s) to proceed.

    For most of my previous projects, I usually start from a Pantone Solid reference (C or U) I apply on the product, and then I find the RGB/CMYK/HEX value for any work on my screen (Branding, Packaging Visual...)

    This time, I started my effort from creating the new brand identity directly on my screen (Apple Macbook Retina 2014 with no specific color calibration...sorry) and I ended up with an RGB color that everybody on the prokect likes: R170,G194,B216 (HEX: AAC2D8).

    The main use of this color would be digital, App and website. Then I assumed I could try to, first, match on screen my color with a Pantone reference; and then double checking it with a Pantone book and hopefully be happy enough with it to use if for any future physical reference, Printing (Business Card, Packaging...) but also for the physical product.

    So I went online and started looking for RGB to Pantone converter, which gave me few online converters, but eventually I discovered the "Recolor Artwork" feature on illustrator. In order to properly do everything I even set up the Pantone Color Manager and got the latest Pantone Book Libraries for illustrator.

    -----But here are the couple of issues I have now:-----
    • I can't find any Pantone Solid reference (either C or U) matching -on screen- my color (HEX: AAC2D8), like not at all...
    • By using the "Recolor Artwork" illustrator feature I eventually found the Pantone CMYK Coated 113-9C which fairly matched my color...but after updating the Pantone Library for the CMYK V2, now the same reference looks completely different...grrr thanks Pantone...
    • Last chance, I tried finding a color in my Pantone Solid Coated book that I would like and find close enough from my original color intention... When I compared my selection on screen, my best picks eventually are 543C and 644C, but they're still pretty far from my original digital color...
    Below is how I look at it now in order to make a decision: Click image for larger version

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    As you can see, whatever looks great to my eyes on the Pantone Solid Coated book, doesn't really match on illustrator.

    Then you can also see that the previous CMYK Coated P113-9C was a great match, but the new Pantone updated reference is veryyyy different so I guess I can't use it anymore... But as you see, the CMYK Coated P111-1C is not too bad...

    At the end of the day, I do understand that I can pick whatever RGB I want for screen, because eventually I have no control on how it will look like on everybody's screen.

    I also understand, I can easily convert it to CMYK values then, since I will have to double check any printing job anyway. And again I won't have much control on a bad printer/manufacturer. But it seemed I understood that having a Pantone Reference can sometimes helps with color matching on print.

    But eventually I will need a Pantone Reference anyway in order to have physical sample to show to any manufacturer trying to match a paint or a plastic color...

    So I am personally ok with keeping my RGB color for digital (website and App) and then select a Pantone Reference from a book with my eyes, for anything physical. But for obvious reason it gets tricky when you need to create a file for printing. And it can get very confusing to have in my final design guideline (PDF on screen) a RGB color and a Pantone Reference, supposedly matching, actually looking pretty different...

    -----So few question for you, hopefully someone can help:-----
    1. I tried to read as much as I can about this subject, and I read a lot about the solution to use Color Bridge for exactly what I am doing, unfortunately, I don't have the books in hand, and on my screen the "theoretical" matches are the worst out of all my work so far...
    2. First thing first, am I doing everything completely wrong. Any advices about a better way to proceed in general? I definitely understand that at the end everything is pretty subjective from Screen to Physical, but I would like to find at least a pretty close match.
    3. Is is ok to use a Pantone CMYK reference as color reference for printing or painting matching? On one of my previous project, working on packaging, I remember the manufacturer asking for a PMS reference...
    4. Also, once (if) I find a match, what am I supposed to do with it? Should I switch all my digital color to that Pantone reference values? Or, and it seems like an extreme and unproper solution, but I started to think that I should use files with my RGB color for anything digital, and create other files/samples using a Pantone reference I will pick out of any book for anything meant to be on real physical media. Eyeballing the matching, from my screen to the book(s).
    I really hope someone can help me here. Please feel free to answer only 1 or 2 questions if you have any great input for me.

    Thank you very much!
    Attached Files

  • #2
    Hi CLM and welcome to GDF.

    We ask all new members to read very important links here and here. These explain the rules, how the forum runs and a few inside jokes. No, you haven't done anything wrong, we ask every new member to read them. Your first few posts will be moderated, so don't panic if they don't show up immediately. Enjoy your stay.
    Shop smart. Shop S-Mart.


    • #3
      I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all answer to your questions. A lot depends on the nature of the work and the client.

      If accurate color matching across various printing processes and mediums is essential, well, you'd better start out with a Pantone color that has a good CMYK equivalent. Doing it the other way around, will lead to exactly the problems you're describing.

      On the other hand, lots of small- to medium-sized businesses don't having exacting color matching needs or any standards for this sort of thing. Others think that eyeballing most any shade of dark red or light green is close enough

      If you're developing a company's visual branding, you need to take future uses into consideration (even if the client doesn't), so starting with Pantone color sort of future-proofs things to an extent. Just personally, for the work I do, spot color matching tends not to be all that important 95 percent of the time, so I'll consider it, but not let it be the driving factor. Again, though, it depends. We have several clients who insist that their special company or product color alway be printed exactly the same, so in those instances, yeah, it's important -- even in RGB (where it's usually easier to match anyway).
      Last edited by B; 07-21-2017, 03:34 PM. Reason: Typo fix


      • #4
        You cannot match onscreen swatches of color matching systems to your on-screen unknown color. I just doesn't work that way.

        Though it is far from perfect, when I have to come up with the closest pantone for some set of RGB numbers, I'll use the color picker feature of photoshop. I type in the RGB values than switch it over to Color Libraries and it gives me the nearest Pantone and displays how far it is off from the original RGB values. Your R170,G194,B216 (HEX: AAC2D8) is very very close to the 543c you picked by eye. That's probably as close as you'll ever get.

        You seem to be flailing about the pantone decks trying to find a solution. Regarding the P values you have listed, not one single printer I know has purchased those books, so it is unlikely as standard as you think. (I'm in the US. Your mileage may vary.) When Pantone discontinued the DS series and semi-replaced it with P, it was suddenly far less useful as a color reference.The old DS system was very useful.

        Be careful of using Bridge colors. That book is a reference ONLY. It is showing you what Pantone spot colors MIGHT look like when printed in CMYK. I've never understood though, what profile they are using to display that in the bridge book. Because the profiles my CMYK vendors use can hit Pantone swatches far far closer than the Bridge would lead you to suspect. As for actually applying a Bridge color number? Do not do it unless your printer tells you to. Don't do it for matching's sake.

        Something you might try is finding a swatch of the color you like. It might be a paint chip color from the hardware store. Then have your local friendly print shop run a spec reading on it and give you the LAB values for the color. Sometimes that works, depending on the way the swatch was produced. However, LAB is not widely in use, at least not as much as it should be. Most printers are still in the visual sample era. It's really hard to let that go and in some cases the profiling available doesn't allow for it.

        The thing to remember is color is never accurately represented on screen. Sometimes a designer does have to do color swap gymnastics to make something look right to the client during the design process, but for it to print out properly, the right numbers have to be applied. I work in swaps all day long. What I might see on my semi-calibrated (not so much) monitor sure as heck is not as beautiful and perfectly matched as what comes out of the printer at the end of the day. I've learned not to even care what colors on the monitor look like as long as the numbers print accurately.


        • #5
          Hi there,

          First of all, sorry for the late reply, I was travelling with low access to internet.

          KitchWitch, thank you very much, glad to be joining that forum, I definitely lack of knowledge regarding Graphic Design.
          Also sorry if it seemed like I double posted this topic, I actually had some issues while trying at first, indeed every time I try restoring a post I was writing which got saved, it would bring me back to the forum home page few seconds after I hit "restore"...

          Thanks a lot to both B and PrintDriver for taking the time to help me, very appreciated! I'll try to phrase below proper feedback to your inputs.
          • B, just to give you a bit more info about my client. This is a baby start-up in the bay area, only the founders for now, trying to come up with a solid new offer to the medical market. So as you will assume, there isn't a huge need of making it perfect, especially for a long term strategy, since they don't even know where the company will be in a couple of years. Plus, the company need is mostly digital (App and website) that's why I decided to start with an RGB color when developing the brand. But eventually there is definitely an actual need to have a matching color for any printed media (Packaging, Business Card, Goodies...) and for the product branding (solid chip sample)!!
            However, I wanted to give them the right tool and a high quality branding guideline since this is a freelance job, so eventually they will have to move forward without me double checking everything.

            So first, I definitely hear you about probably having 2 different files, one digital and one for printing.
            I also hear you about starting with a Pantone color with a good CMYK match. I will definitely offer both option to my client, explaining to them what it will change on a short and long term scenario.
          • PrintDriver, "You cannot match onscreen swatches of color matching systems to your on-screen unknown color. It just doesn't work that way." I would appreciate more feedback regarding that.
            From my understanding, this was the easiest way to try to match a Pantone to my RGB color using only my screen. Indeed, even if I'm not sure how Pantone does it, I was assuming that what ever RGB conversion they create from their Pantone book would be the only reference I could use to match my on-screen color with their color system...
            My strategy really was to put together a first selection on my screen and then making a final pick with the book in my hand...

            So as you described it, although I was using illustrator, I used the color matching tool to get closest references from every Pantone book, even tho I wasn't sure how to use the Bridge and CMYK version, being much more familiar with the Solid...
            (Also I'll give it a try with the Photoshop tool if you think it might change something. I noticed in the past that Illustrator and Photoshop don't always treat colors the same...)

            Regarding your feedback about using Bridge, I guess I won't since whatever printer I will be working with, won't care so much about how great the color match...they will probably just print few swatches and let me validate one version from eyeballing...
            Same about LAB Values definition, as you say "most printers are still in the visual sample era."

          Thanks again for helping guys, as I said, I think now I will probably go back to my client with what I think is the best RGB color (from my screen) and the best Pantone Solid reference from eyeballing and screen matching.
          From that I will suggest them to either have a file with my RGB color for digital media and another one using the Pantone color for physical media; or to just go all in with the Pantone reference.

          Please feel free to react again to anything I just added.



          • #6
            Photoshop and illustrator do not match, or rather did not match, because Illustrator was always CMYK oriented. Photoshop was always LAB, since way back before LAB became popular. It was all a matter of matching profiles, which a lot of designers don't understand.

            They should match now as both programs are LAB based, as long as you are syncing your profiling. If you are working in sRGB in Photoshop, no the color won't match an Illustrator file created in CMYK.

            The swatches Pantone has online are only representations of the actual colors. People don't seem to understand that the onscreen representations are not accurate. Especially not now that Adobe and Pantone have colluded to create formula that ''look'' right on the screen but don't convert to the proper CMYK values. Darned annoying. Cost me a lot of money a few years ago when that change was made and all of a sudden things were printing wrong (the year they came out with the chromatic books.) Darn little radio button....

            Anyway, like I said, your eyeball match of swatch to monitor is pretty darn close, with regards to your RGB values.
            Your online ''web'' versions should rely on your selected hex, not so much RGB, which is more video appropriate, and the print version could rely on the pantone coated value. Just be aware that in CMYK printing, if you have a Pantone Bridge swatch deck, what you might see may more approximate the Bridge equivalent rather than the Pantone number. Digital CMYK printing is getting better all the time with the advent of LAB, but traditional CMYK press printing using conventional CMYK inks, is not so much into the accurate Pantone matching. Fewer of the Pantones are in the gamut. Even with digital many of the Pantones are out of gamut. Right now, with the extended inksets of digital printing, you can get maybe 80% of them. Not so much with a conventional CMYK offset press.






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