How to Convert CMYK Colors to Pantone

Written by melyssa holik
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How to Convert CMYK Colors to Pantone
Using the Pantone matching system will guarantee precise colour matching. (Pantone 02 image by Marco from Fotolia.com)

Most presses print with cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK) inks, which is why most graphics files use CMYK colour values. However, the Pantone Matching System (PMS) guarantees greater colour precision because each colour is standardised and catalogued by number. In order to print using PMS, you must convert all the colours in your document to Pantone colours. There are two ways to decide which Pantone colour you'd like; you can base it on the existing CMYK value, or you can find a swatch in the Pantone swatch book, which is available from Pantone.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Graphics software such as Adobe Creative Suite, including a vector-based graphics program such as Illustrator or InDesign as well as photo-editing software such as Photoshop
  • Pantone swatch book (optional)

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Open your graphics document. Select a shape that is filled with a solid CMYK colour.

  2. 2

    Identify the CMYK values of the shape by selecting the shape and checking the colour palette for the CMYK value.

  3. 3

    Using Photoshop or similar photo-editing software, open the colour mixer. Enter the CMYK values and then select the "color libraries" option. Select the desired Pantone library (for example, Pantone Uncoated, Pantone Coated, Pantone Metallic and so on) and Photoshop will automatically find the closest swatch. Write down the Pantone number.

  4. 4

    Return to your vector program and select the CMYK shape you're going to convert. If you are using Illustrator, under the Windows option, select "Swatch Library," then "Color Books," then the appropriate Pantone colour book. This will open a swatch palette with all the Pantone swatches in it. Find the Pantone swatch number you want by rolling over the swatch to reveal its reference number. Apply that swatch to the shape.

  5. 5

    If you are using InDesign, select the shape you're converting. Open the swatch palette and make a swatch with that shape's fill colour. If you have already created a swatch, select that swatch. Double-click the swatch to open the swatch options. It will say "Color Type: Process" and "Color Mode: CMYK." Change these to "Color Type: Spot" and under "Color Mode," select the appropriate Pantone library.

  6. 6

    If you are using Photoshop, use the Channels palette and select "Create New Spot Channel." Name it the spot colour you want to use and paste all the graphics for that spot colour into that channel. Using this method, you will have to be extra careful to communicate with the printer about the spot colours you want, since they are not specified as clearly as they are in InDesign or Illustrator.

  7. 7

    Repeat the process for each colour you are using.

  8. 8

    Save your file, making sure your export settings do not include instructions to convert all spot colours to CMYK.

  1. 1

    Look through your Pantone swatch book. Identify the ink colour you want to use for each area of solid colour.

  2. 2

    If you are using Illustrator, under the Windows option, select "Swatch Library," then "Color Books," then the appropriate Pantone colour book. This will open a swatch palette with all the Pantone swatches in it. Find the Pantone swatch number you want by rolling over the swatch to reveal its reference number. Apply that swatch.

  3. 3

    If you are using InDesign, select the shape you're converting. Open the swatch palette and make a swatch with that shape's fill colour. If you have already created a swatch, select that swatch. Double-click the swatch to open the swatch options. It will say "Color Type: Process" and "Color Mode: CMYK." Change these to "Color Type: Spot" and under "Color Mode," select the appropriate Pantone library.

  4. 4

    If you are using Photoshop, use the Channels palette and select "Create New Spot Channel." Name it the spot colour you want to use and paste all the graphics for that spot colour into that channel. Using this method, you will have to be extra careful to communicate with the printer about the spot colours you want, since they are not specified as clearly as they are in InDesign or Illustrator.

  5. 5

    Repeat the process for each colour you are using.

  6. 6

    Save your file, making sure your export settings do not include instructions to convert all spot colours to CMYK.

Tips and warnings

  • Pantone is most often used with vector graphics and solid shapes. It is not practical for continuous-tone images. Pantone colour matching is a great way to ensure a company's logo is consistently reproduced in the exact same colour, even if it is printed on different materials by different printers.
  • Not all printers print using Pantone colours. Check with your printer before making your conversions.

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