Package Design Project: Pantone color advice needed for plastics

Hi everyone!

So this is my first package design project where the plastics need a pantone color. I’ve never worked with plastic colors, so I’m not sure where to start.

The client is a friend of mine for a serious project, a skincare line that will be carried in stores. She knows what colors she wants, and we’ve worked those out in the RGB/CMYK space, but the manufacturer of the plastic containers/bottles is asking for PMS colors for the plastics. The two main parts I’m working with per each product is the cap and the bottle it screws on.

We’ve decided the cap will be off white and have come up with a couple of options for the bottle portion which will basically be a light grey in either a semi-transparent (see through) bottle or a solid opaque light grey (the same light grey just solid) as a fall back.

These are all uncoated and matt colors btw (she wants to avoid that super shiny plastic look) which the manufacturer said can be achieved for the plastics.

My question, how do I go about finding out what colors these are in PMS numbers if I have them in RGB/CMYK? How would I account for the transparency factor? What are the best Pantone color systems or tools that I should be looking at?

I’ve done some research and have some answers to work out with the manufacturer/printer, but was hoping to some deeper incites from someone who’s been here before… Any advice would be GREATLY appreciated!

A few pics from the mood board are attached that reflect the look and colors we’re shooting for (branding is kinda similar to these as well, minimal).

Thanks in advance!

Note: the colors for the transparent look on the “Honest” bottles are a little more on the white/clear side. We’re aiming for a greyer tone like 4B.

I’m going to guess that your plastics manufacturer has told you how many units of bottles and caps you are going to have to buy to get a custom Pantone match? That’s usually in the pallets of cases range.

The other question is does your supplier want a Pantone coated match or does he want an actual Pantone Plastics number. I’ve never actually laid eyes on a Pantone plastics deck. The basic set is well over $3000 and the full set close to $9000. And unfortunately the Pantone X-ref does not include the plastic swatches.

There are just under 2000 pantone colors. There are hundreds of thousands of CMYK combinations. You aren’t going to get something that matches your monitor.

You can go into Photoshop and use the color picker to get an approximation of the Pantone by entering the CMYK values and switch to swatches but that is a pretty hazardous way of doing things. You will see though, how far off Photoshop’s guess is by comparing the two blocks in the picker. What you see on your monitor is NOT what the actual Pantone will look like. For that you need a swatch deck.

I do a lot of packaging work with plastics and have a coulpe of the Pantone plastic sets for this purpose.

Plastic houses are asking for a Pantone number becuase that is just an easy system to communicate the “range” of color you are looking for. Converting your cmyk/rgb to its closest pantone ink equivalent can be a good starting point for them. You will likely go back and forth with custom made chip samples with the color house in order to get the color you want (and be aware this can take weeks to months).

Alternatively, you could try to seek out the plastic color you are looking for on other retail packaging. Cosmetic stores and toy stores are havens for custom plastic colors. If you are able to send the plastic house a sample of the color you want as actual plastic they can determine its formula and reproduce it (eliminating some of back and forth you would otherwise have).

As for the “matte” that your client is requesting, that is typically something built into the mould tooling. If the plan is to use stock moulds, the samples you see will be what you get. Alternative to doing a full custom mould, matte can be achieved via coatings, however this can be an expensive secondary process.

Some extra advice:
• be prepared to never land on the “perfect” custom color
• transparency is actually just the ratio of natural plastic pellets to dyed plastic pellets, lowest you can go is 1% and some plastic types are more clear than others.
• plastic thickness, transparency, and mould surface texture plays a big role in how color is perceived.
• be cautious of the proposed packaging wall thickness in comparison to the thickness levels of plastic chip samples you receive (get a caliper if you don’t have one)
• be prepared to choose a color based on the chip alone, not on the actual packaging

Good luck!


I’m wondering if the OP knows the actual extent of creating my a custom color packaging design. And the expense.
It sounds like they don’t even have a Pantone swatch deck.
Kinda like being a mechanic without a socket wrench set.

One thing I failed to mention was that the client and manufacturer decided not to do custom moldings, as it is of more expensive. We have decided on moulding from their catalogue and have received the plastics (bottles and jars) the products will be housed in and are happy with what we received.

In terms of how the plastic coloring could be handled. They can offer custom color for them, or custom coated color as a second option. The client is open to both. Most likely she will go with coated to start with, as it is the cheaper alternative. But if that doesn’t get us the look that we want in the test run, she might do custom.

To answer specifically:

Yes, the manufacturer, I, and the client have gone through this. We’re aware of the numbers. It will be a large enough order if we choose custom.

We’re considering both options. Though the client is leaning toward coated for the first run, to see how it looks. I stated above that I failed to mention this.

I’m aware of this. I’ve never worked with them but I’ve seen a set before… I don’t have access to a deck. They ARE expensive. The manufacturer knows where we’re coming from and is working with us to best execute our color wishes with this handicap (they want the order $$$$). We’re almost there. I’m pretty sure we’ll land on something close.

I know this. I’ve worked with print before, just not plastics.

Aware of this and already done this. I understand that this won’t get me the exact colors that I need for the end result… I also have coated and uncoated swatch books for print (paper) as a fall back. Just getting other incites.

I do know the extent and the expense. I probably didn’t state as many details as I have now through answering your responses, but I totally understand.

I answered this above.

Thank you for giving your perspective. Much appreciated!

Your the one I was looking for, lol. Thanks for the incites and perspective. I really appreciate it!

To answer you specifically…

I agree, This was our starting point.

We are either going to do this, or forgo this and settle with a coated plastic (that still needs to be match with a PMS color). Most likely doing the coated to start with. If that doesn;t get us what we want initially in the test run, we’ll probably go custom. Just getting other perspective to make a better decision.

Now this is something I thought of for a second but thought it wouldn’t be practical. Now that you mention it I will consider it an option if needed, as I do have cosmetic samples here in the office that are very similar to the looks we are trying to achieve. Thanks for stating this, I would have slept on this idea.

I totally understand what you’re saying. We’ve had these conversations with the manufacturer who has said the same things. Though they did say coating may be cheaper to start with, but did point out that it is another step to add to production/cost. So that’s why I’m debating how to best go about this. But it looks like we’re on the right track.

I was aware of couple of these, others I wasn’t. So Thank you for this. Makes me feel better about getting nuttier on the details.

Thanks again for your thoughts. I truly appreciate it!

I surprised they’re giving you an open selection for PMS colors. Manufacturers in my experience, usually, first, have you select from a series of Pantone options that keep in-house and allow for easy, less expensive production. You have the option for a custom color of course, but they make it very difficult both in price and turnover to allow to select that option.

Quick note: Uncoated and Matte are two distinct and very different entities.

Look into a Pantone swatch set. For the amount this project will cost, owning you’re own switch set is rather trivial. It’s your best bet at defining color, and bridging the gap from CMYK to Pantone and back.
(Make sure the set includes a bridge).

Accounting for transparency is difficult. I have no clear way of calculating the difference in appearance from a solid swatch to translucent bottle. However, the manufacturer might, by somehow giving you a halftone that applies to the opacity of the package itself. Then, one must account for the product within the bottle as well.

Amen to the fact you went with a grey of sorts. Wise choice.

There were a number of manufacturers to choose from. This one fit the clients budget and needs. And they’ve been pretty accommodating. This is a simi-custom order going with stock molds, but we’re making final decisions on custom colors at the moment.

I wanted to keep things simple. I felt grey had a lower margin of error. The same with off white (on the grey side). Whites can be hard to match with plastics.

Thank you so much for the advice!

©2019 Graphic Design Forum | Contact | Legal | Twitter | Facebook