Colour dilemma and crazyness

RGB to Hex to CMYK to Pantone Colours

I am working for a client at the moment and my first time creating a Brand book for them. Usuall colours are given to me. I think I know what I am doing with colours but I am unsure so need some advice.

I know how to find out RGB, CMYK and Pantone from google or the creative suit softwares but how do I know if they actually work.

Eg. In Adobe Illustrator, I took my swatch Teal’s RGB and convert it to CMYK on the computer using two documents where one mode was RGB and other was CMYK.

But on an online platform when I entered the RGB swatch, the CMYK valuess are different. Unsure what is the right way?

RGB to Pantone:
I am using the online website but again sometimes they show 4 options so which is the best. I don’t own a brand book so I can’t check that either.

Hex swatch:
Hex swatch I take it from RGB swatch I guess.

Is there a way to do this properly or a better or easier way to do this? May I am also overthinking this…


Everything you’re doing is wrong. Everything.
Get a Pantone Book from your local shop/supplier. Or visit a print shop to discuss.

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At the risk of being harsh, it leaves me wondering what you are doing creating a definitive brand guide when, by your own admission, you don’t know what you are doing.

As an aside, when specifying Pantone, you also often need two colours. The coated and uncoated colours can be very different. As smurf2 says you NEED a Pantone book and a CMYK one too.

It is usually better to start with Pantone colours and work backwards, than starting with RGB.

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Picking colours on screen is a disaster or using online converters. What colour profile is the cmyk? Should really be using LAB colours.

Cannot have the same pantone swatch for coated and uncoated. You cant use the CMYK breakdown either.

You really need to speak to a professional printer to go through colour choices.

You will learn so much.


What they ^ said.

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Ideally yes but this client can only see Digital and what you can see on the screen so it is difficult to start with a print swatch at first.

Also I am not working in house with them but from home as they are in another country

An ideal printer in Dubai to speak to regarding this would definitely be great.

Unfortunately most printers don’t even have pantone books in their print shops.

A brand guide is intended to cover all eventualities to do with the usage of their brand. It doesn’t matter if they are only seeing on screen, the information in it must be accurate. Very few brand guides I’ve worked on have been printed, but you need the information re print colours to be collated from actual print swatches, not online, or software conversions. That way, when someone uses the information from the digital-only guide, to print something, you/they will be sure the colour will reproduce as accurately as possible.

Have you local print shop nearby? It would be worth the visit.

Has your client printed any material eg. business cards?If yes, see if you can obtain working files and check if CMYK or Pantone colours were used.

If you only have a digital RGB reference then you need to make the decision on the closest Pantone and CMYK match for this colour(s). As mentioned already, the only way is a Pantone Book.
I´m very surprised to read that your printers don´t have Pantone books.

Although Pantone books are expensive, it was the best investment for me.

Hope you find a solution.

The OP said they are in/near Dubai. While a number of smaller local printers may indeed not have Pantone books, some of the larger ones may.

However, if the end client is in a totally different country, it may be wise to determine which color books are in use. Toyo is far more common in some places than Pantone. RAL colors elsewhere in Europe. While Pantone is fairly universal, it isn’t the be-all-end-all. We get Euro brand guides occasionally that use RAL numbers. Heck, we get US brand guides that include Benjamin Moore paint colors. LOL! The important thing though is we have the actual swatch decks to do the conversion by eye.

There is no way to continue professionally on a brand guide without some sort of color system to refer to. Using a monitor or phone camera for anything to do with color matching is a gamble.

Thanks a lot for all your advice and comments. This was my solution. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Ideally we should start with CMYK or even Pantone swatches but times have changed i think…

In 2020 depending on where your client is, we work via Zoom only and sometimes never meet the client. Some clients only want Website or Digital Work done only as well so we start from agreed Screen colours.

This particular client gave me the RGB colours only and said please find the CMYK and Pantone to go with it for their brand guideline.

This is what I did:

  1. In Adobe illustrator choose your RGB colours.

  2. Make a copy of the document then change it to CMYK mode and find its CMYK colours that way.

  3. Make another Artboard page with the same document so you have a copy of your CMYK.

  4. My one and only local printer with a Pantone book! One of the expensive printers but worth it!
    This is what they have been doing as many clients just send RGB swatches apparently.
    Suggested steps from printer were:

  • In Adobe illustrator, click on the CMYK colour you want to convert into Pantone. Choose Colour Guide then click on the colour square of the chosen tint.
  • Click on the wheel icon at the bottom: ‘Edit/Recolour artwork’
  • Under Recolour artwork, click the icon on the bottom right that says ‘None’ and choose Colour Books > (I choose Pantone Solid Coated) and say Okay.
  • Automatically in your swatches the colour comes and note down your Pantone number that way.

I printed it out to see if the CMYK and Pantone match, they actually do!

That’s not going to work.

You have no idea of the output intent - so your CMYK and Pantone swatches will be erroneous across different print devices.

Your own printer isn’t colour calibrated - and probably working off RGB values - so you cannot rely on your own printer.

You need a professional printing company.

I’ve actually seen the exact same colour printed on the exact same machine change colour throughout the day due to lighting, humidity, heat etc.

The same plates, the same ink, the same paper - throughout the day the colour can shift.

I had one guy send the same FSDU PDF file to 2 different printers and of course they came back different colours.

I’ve had the same printer reprint jobs and they come back a different colour using the same file.

You really need to understand what you’re doing here. And that workflow is going to cause issues.

You are right that humidity, temperature, the type of paper can change the colour but hopefully that shouldn’t be too much of a different to the naked eye right?

As long as the client is happy with the colours that are being printed then I think it is alright?

It absolutely will be noticeable

As someone who works in a print shop, do yourself and your client a favor and start with the PMS colors. Pantone has standardized conversions for CMYK and RGB outputs, as well as variations standardized for different media types such as gloss/matte as mentioned above. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to run and re-run jobs because a logo did not print the color right - it’s one of the biggest things I have to watch for when printing. On a lot of them I have to reference a sample because work-arounds were used in the past and I have to keep consistent to what was done before, but it’s way, WAY simpler if you can refer to a universal standard. I can tell anyone PMS 657 and they can know exactly what it should look like.

Any given printer that uses a CMYK/4 Color Process output will give you a different result than another because of how it’s calibrated and the different variables from day to day - humidity and temperature are big ones, but no the only ones.

The point is that if they’re asking you to make a guide for consistency, the best place to start is common ground, so that whatever output they pick in the future, they and their manufacturers can be speaking the same language. Lots of vendors have PMS matching options, or PMS inks, so you and your client can know that the exact color will be used each time. They -might- be okay with the slight variations that happen on different outputs - but they might not be - and given that they’re asking for a standardizing guide it makes me lean towards the latter.

I don’t know why I didn’t think to share this link earlier, but here’s a page talking about Pantone’s Color Bridge books - you can see they show the pantone swatch, and next to it the result of it’s standardized conversion - a print shop should have this book to show how their 4-color process will export a clients pantone swatches. If you can’t show one of these to your client, see if you can direct them to a shop that has these resources on hand, so they can see something in-hand to reflect what they’re asking for.

Additionally, using the example I gave above of 657, here’s a page that shows the conversions for that swatch into HEX, RGB, and CMYK (note that this is the coated swatch).

From what you described above, they’re sending you RGB swatches and then asking you to assign a pantone color, correct? What I would do is I would find one or a couple that come close to that, then show them the standardized conversions of that Pantone swatch - including the RGB conversion, and then have them choose one as the standard, new mixes and all. Screens are even more fickle than printers when it comes to color consistency, so you -definitely- want to make sure they’ve seen how it comes out in a physical medium before you commit anything to stone.

Honestly, RGB might be the worst standard to set a brand on - I can get pretty good RGB matches to print colors, but RGB can hit colors that are practically fluorescent, and I can’t hit those without special inks. Seriously, try printing a swatch of pure RGB green and comparing it to what your screen shows.

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You’ve tried to throw a lot of info into two posts.
Here’s a wrinkle.
I do wide format. It’s CMYK digital. That Bridge book is useless when deciding what the Pantone color will look like on my CMYK press because we have better inksets and better profiles than a convention 4-color plate press, and can hit a good 80% of the Pantone colors pretty darn close if they are called out and applied properly using the Pantone coated swatch palette. Closer if we do a chart match. If you actually want to match the Bridge CMYK conversion, you have to manually go into the ink manager and Convert all Spots to Process and it’ll come closer to that drivel.

Same thing happens to people who change Pantone color swatch names in the swatch palette. If the callouts aren’t there, there is no lookup for the profile to use. Those folks deserve all the bad color matches they get.

Another opinion…

A brand guide ought to be as solid as possible regarding colors given that the whole purpose of the guide is to provide a basis point for decisions and specifications to use to ensure some semblance of compliance going forward.

That being the case, all the advice you’ve received in the other posts is smack dab, right on accurate.

However, it’s often not quite that straight-forward.

If you’re dealing with a company where their logo color needs to match exactly with their trade show booth, which needs to match exactly with the screen printing on the t-shirts of those in the trade show and where both must match exactly the color on both their slick, shiny hand-outs as well as on their uncoated paper business cards, it’s another matter. In those cases, you’ll need to get things exact or, at least, provide a color standard that can be used by vendors to ascertain what needs to be done by to match those colors.

On the other hand, there are companies where those in charge can barely tell the difference between dark red and bright red and who think all the fuss over colors is just a secondary, nuisance kind of importance. In those instances all that attention and time spent to make everything exact might be in vain and never used.

I recently completed work for two separate companies: one was a construction company, the other was a software company.

The construction company had an MBA leading their marketing efforts and, like many MBAs, he knew just enough to be dangerous, while discounting most everything he didn’t know as irrelevant. He was fixated on everything the company did being colored Pantone 3125. I was designing a set of promotional booklets for them and, of course, Pantone 3125 or its CMYK approximation needed to figure prominently. The MBA had no idea of how color worked, but had that 3125 number memorized. There was not a conversation where that number didn’t come up several times. All their construction trucks were painted the equivalent of Pantone 3125, and he sent me photos of them for the booklets.

Of course, all the photos were a bit different. Some of the trucks were in bright sunlight, some were in shade, some were shot on cloudy days and, as to be expected, the colors of all those trucks were all a bit different depending on the photo. He was upset about this and wanted each of the trucks in each of the photos retouched so that each matched exactly to Pantone 3125. He didn’t understand that the same color indoors is actually a different colors when seen outdoors or on a sunny day as opposed to a rainy day. I probably wasted 500 dollars of their budget demonstrating to this guy how awkward his photos would look if I shifted the color balances on all their trucks in all the photos to match up precisely with the Pantone 3125 swatch taped to his white board.

Their style guide, which I got a copy of, mentioned everything from logo placement, to typography to most everything else a typical style guide gets into. He didn’t care about the typography though. He couldn’t tell the difference between one sans-serif typeface and the next. But for whatever misguided reason, his eyes were perfectly attuned to spotting even the slightest deviation from Pantone 3125, even though he didn’t have the slightest idea of anything having to do with color theory.

The second company — the software business — has a CEO who knows just enough about design to appreciate that he knows almost nothing about it. The company is composed of researchers, engineers, mathematicians and hard-core programmers. A photo of a typical company employee could be used to illustrate the word “geek” in a dictionary. Most any design decision turns into a vote by the employees.

They have some commercial products, but marketing is a complete mystery to them. Brand consistency is a buzz word they’ve learned, but fail to understand. The logo I designed for the company is blue, so when they had company t-shirts made, they bizarrely chose to print their blue logo on a slightly different blue shirt. When I asked, their explanation was that they all took a vote and the majority wanted aqua-color shirts, despite the logo being a solid blue with no hint of green in it. Everything I do for this company is an exercise in bringing some semblance of order to their visual chaos.

A few months back, I suggested to the CEO that they might hire me to put together a style guide for the company to provide a little guidance. He agreed that would be a good idea. I carefully figured out all the colors, as suggested by those earlier in this thread. I wrote a 40-page brand style guide that covered everything from their website to their software interfaces to their promotional materials and PowerPoint presentations. I’m pretty sure it just went into a drawer someplace and never looked at again because everything I see they’ve done recently is a mishmash of random piecemeal stuff that’s sort of half made up with only a token bit of my brand guide being apparent.

Bottom lines…

This and other experiences accrued over 40 years of doing this kind of thing has taught me that every situation and every client is different. For some, strict adherence to Pantone and/or LAB colors is important and needs to be part of the process. For others, it can be a wasted effort when all they really want are the hexadecimal colors because it’s close enough for whatever they have in mind. For them, just keep everything in the CMYK gamut and hope they don’t screw it up too badly.

It’s important to figure out what the company really wants, really needs and temper that with a realistic assessment of how they’ll use it, what they’ll get out of it and whether or not it will be something they will take to heart or, to some degree, ignore. Then, with all that considered, give them what seems appropriate for the money they’re paying you.

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On more than one occasion, after a trade show was all said and done, I’ve had clients send me ‘thank you’ emails telling me of all the collateral and adornments they ordered from various places, our product (usually the hard booth) was the only thing to hit their corporate colors dead on.

Makes me wonder sometimes if I need to shift a couple points off to be like everyone else…LOL! But the clients keep coming back, so we must be doing it right.

Actually, I’m pretty sure the rest of their stuff was probably within 5 ∆e of correct but some of those Logo Police can be brutal. It had gotten so bad at one point that even though we had an email not to use the ™ or ® in a 3D logo, we’d send the lollipops along to float them because invariably it would become a thing.

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