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Pantone Colors: Why & How to Convert Colors to Pantone

Pantone Colors: Why & How to Convert Colors to Pantone

In the digital age, the appreciation for color on printed media is often overlooked. Nowadays, everything is hex color this and RGB that, but what happens when you need to carry over your brand to print advertising or packaging?

Pantone spot colors, that’s what.

Why Use Pantone

Sure, you could convert all your colors to CMYK and send them off to the printer. After you get over the fact that all your colors are now duller, you’ll probably love it (the first time it’s printed). Then comes a second time with a different printer.

What is this!?! It doesn’t look anything like the first run! They’re the same values. I don’t understand…

Process CMYK printing is full of factors that cause variations in color output. Color profiles, substrates, dot gain, ink viscosity, press type… the list goes on and on. This is why the Pantone Color Matching System (PMS) was created and has been used across industries for the last 50 years.

Pantone takes the unexpected color shifts out of the equation and provides consistent color for your brand so the consumer can easily identify it.

My recommendation would be to start with a Pantone color when developing a brand, product, or anything color critical.

Unfortunately, the Pantone color swatches don’t represent the full gamut of colors so it’s better to find one from the start. That saves you from having to explain why a color looks different on the finished product compared to the concepts.

A majority of the print industry uses the Pantone Solid Coated (PMS C) swatches for color matching. This guide contains 2,161 swatches after the addition of 294 new colors in September 2019.

OK, so now that you’re convinced that Pantone colors are a necessity let’s get to the good stuff and start finding them. Below are some tools to help you find the perfect Pantone color for your project.

Convert Colors to Pantone

If you’ve already started your project and have the color you want, or if you have a file you need to convert to Pantone spot colors, there are a few ways to do so.

No matter how you choose to do it, always be sure to look at the color you choose in the Pantone swatch book to make sure you like it. These methods aren’t flawless and seem to fluctuate, but they will point you in the right direction.

Remember that there will always be variation between your monitor and a printed color.

Adobe Illustrator

  • Select the color you want to convert with the Selection Tool.
  • In the menu bar choose Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork…
  • When the Recolor Artwork window opens, click on the icon in the lower right to limit the colors to a Pantone swatch library (see below).
  • Click OK.

pantone colors illustrator

The selected item color has now been changed to the Pantone swatch that Illustrator deems closest and has added to the Swatches Panel.

Adobe Photoshop

This technique takes a few less clicks.

  • Click the Foreground color to access the Color Picker window.
  • Sample the color to be converted then simply click Color Libraries.
  • Photoshop automatically finds the closest Pantone swatch (make sure you have the correct “Book” selected in the top left-hand corner).

pantone colors photoshop

Since Photoshop was designed to be an image editor and isn’t a layout application, it doesn’t change any color or save any swatches using this process. It’s simply used for identifying a color.

Pantone Website


This web-based option is pretty simple.

  • First click on Convert in the column to the left.
  • Choose the guide from the Pantone Book drop-down menu.
  • Choose the color space you are converting.
  • Enter the values and click Search.

pantone colors website

Pantone Studio


Mobile iOS app – Free to download but has a subscription fee of $4.99/month or $29.99/year

If you’re one of those folks who uses your iPhone for everything this tool may be for you. It’s great for capturing colors you find in real life or browsing social media. There are some nice tools, like offering color harmonies, building custom color palettes and sharing with your Adobe Creative Cloud account. However, this tool costs money and is more of an inspiration tool than a color matching tool.

Posted in: Work
Tags: design
October 05, 2020

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