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If you've ever had to print a Pantone-colored logo to a CMYK press, you know it can be difficult to achieve the perfect color match. Some Pantone colors simply cannot be reproduced by CMYK, though many can be if you use the right conversion method. Problem is, many different designers advocate many different methods, from the Pantone Process Guide to simply using a Pantone to CMYK conversion chart or swatches
Here's what you need to know about converting Pantone to CMYK color:
The simplest explanation is that Pantone is a popular spot color system and CMYK is a process printing system. Pantone spot colors are solid inks assigned numbers that look the same no matter who prints them, which is why spot color is especially important for corporate identities and branded images. CMYK colors, on the other hand, are created (processed) on the press using a mix between Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK inks. 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.
In practice, Pantone is favored for solid colors such as those used in logos and letterhead; while CMYK is favored for mixed colors such as those evident in multi-colored photographs. That being said, printing with Pantone inks can be expensive and many companies prefer to use CMYK process to save money, especially if a Pantone color can be perfectly or closely duplicated using CMYK. Conversely, a company might decide to switch to Pantone after using CMYK four-color process and needs to match the Pantone color to the CMYK mix.
The goal is a branded, uniform look that does not unnecessarily inflate marketing expenses.
As stated, several methods exist and each is dependent on its creator. Some free online resources exist, while many companies (including Pantone) sell conversion swatches and guides to help you achieve the best match possible. Probably the easiest method is to use Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator to make real-time conversions. Simply open your color swatch and convert your colors. You can also get the Pantone Color Bridge free if you join the Pantone community
Matching Pantone to CMYK color can be a challenge, and as a designer you have to understand that the two systems are indeed different, and 100 percent matches are not always possible. You can match most Pantone colors using CMYK, however, and in doing so you can save money and increase your return on investment.