Matching Pantone to CMYK Color

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Accurate color matching is critical to proper branding, but it can be challenging to match colors when your artwork doesn’t mesh with your printing press. Such is the case when you have a Pantone-colored logo and you’re printing on a CMYK press. Some Pantone colors can’t be reproduced by CMYK presses, though many can be if you use the right Pantone to CMYK conversion method. Here’s what you need to know about matching Pantone to CMYK color.

1What’s the difference between Pantone and CMYK color?

The simplest explanation is that Pantone is a spot color system and CMYK is a process printing system.

What is the ]]>Pantone color system]]>? Also known as the Pantone Matching System (PMS), Pantone spot colors are solid inks, each assigned a unique number, that look the same no matter who prints them – which is what makes spot color important for corporate identities and branded images (in 2010, Pantone released Pantone Plus, which added Pantone solid coated and uncoated swatches, a new Pantone Color Bridge guide, and a Pantone metallic formula guide, among other features).

CMYK colors, on the other hand, are created (processed) on the press by mixing four different colors: Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow (Y) and black (K).

Since there are variations between presses, press operators and other factors, CMYK colors are not guaranteed to be perfectly reproduced between printers or even print jobs (unless you choose a G7 Master Certified Printer, which offers precise CMYK color calibration).

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Problems can arise when you have artwork in Pantone color and need to print on a CMYK press, which is typically used for print marketing materials, such as when printing brochures, flyers, or business cards. Designers typically create brand artwork such as logos in Pantone colors, but when you convert Pantone to CMYK to print flyers and other marketing tools, colors might not be accurately reproduced – a real issue when companies have meticulously selected specific colors for branding purposes.

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2Why convert from Pantone to CMYK?

If converting from Pantone to CMYK can be troublesome, why would anyone want to do it in the first place? The two primary reasons are:

  • Though Pantone is favored for accurate solid color reproduction, it’s not a good color system for mixed colors – so it’s great for logos and letterhead, but not for photographs. Printing postcards, catalogs, booklets, and other marketing tools means you need to include both logos and photos, so spot color printing is not appropriate.
  • Pantone inks are expensive; when you’re printing hundreds or thousands of brochures, posters, booklets and other marketing tools, the costs can quickly add up. Converting to CMYK saves money.

Since the goal is to print marketing tools that feature both accurate brand color reproduction and vivid, detailed images at an affordable price, it makes sense to convert Pantone to CMYK for many printing projects.

Spot Color on logo

Spot Color on logo

Spot Color - Image

Spot Color - Image

CMYK image


3How to convert Pantone to CMYK

There are several ways you can convert Pantone to CMYK. Note that in some cases perfect reproduction is impossible: four-color process (CMYK) simply can't reproduce every Pantone color. However, many conversions can result in nearly identical matches.

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The best way to ensure accurate Pantone to CMYK conversion is to purchase a guide from Pantone, such as the ]]>Pantone Color Bridge Book]]>; however, there are quick and easy ways to convert Pantone to CMYK with free tools and the software you already use. They include:

Pantone to CMYK conversion in Photoshop
  • Open your Pantone-colored file
  • Select the color picker tool
  • Hover over the color you want to reproduce and select it (this is how you find Pantone color from an image)
  • The CMYK values will display in the box

Photoshop CMYK Conversion

Or, you can simply switch your document to CMYK color mode.

Pantone to CMYK conversion in Illustrator
  • Set your color mode to CMYK
  • Drag to select the colors you need to convert
  • Perform a “save as” to retain your Pantone spot color in a separate file

Illustrator CMYK Conversion

Pantone to CMYK conversion in InDesign

You can use InDesign to convert spot colors such as Pantone to process like CMYK when you export to PDF. Here’s how to do it.

  • Select EXPORT TO PDF
  • Click the INK MANAGER button

InDesign CMYK Conversion

Pantone to CMYK conversion chart PDF

Search online for Pantone to CMYK color conversion charts; many are available in easy-to-print PDF format. Note that Pantone to CMYK conversion chart PDF documents might not be officially licensed, and they won’t reproduce colors accurately on your desktop printer; however, they can serve as references for converting PMS color to CMYK.

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4Online Pantone to CMYK conversion tools

You can use online tools such as the ]]>Pantone cross reference tool]]> and the ]]>Find a Pantone Color tool]]> to work your way backwards and identify CMYK values. If you know your Pantone color, simply enter it in the tools to view the color profiles, which might include the CMYK values. If no CMYK values are available, hex values and RGB values might be, which can also be used to convert to CMYK.

If you want to switch from CMYK to Pantone colors (such as a CMYK to Pantone Uncoated conversion), you can use an online ]]>CMYK to Pantone converter]]> to find the Pantone color.

Again, it’s important to note that no color conversion is entirely accurate; the best way to ensure proper color reproduction is to purchase official Pantone color guides. This is true whether you’re dealing with Pantone Coated, Pantone Uncoated, or any other Pantone color system.

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How to maintain color accuracy when printing after Pantone to CMYK conversion

Once you’ve successfully converted your artwork from Pantone to CMYK, you still need to ensure accurate color matching on the printing press. The best way to do that is to work with a G7 Certified Master Printer, which offers precise color calibration that ensures your artwork will look as beautiful in print as it does on your computer screen.

Converting Pantone PMS spot color to CMYK four-color process is a great way to keep printing costs low and produce bright, vivid images with excellent color blending. Follow the suggestions outlined in this guide to properly convert your artwork from Pantone to CMYK; then, save money with premium printing at discount prices!