I'm new to Pantone colors. I read this question before coming here. The answers didn't have anything I was doubtful about.

In one of the answers I got previously, I read this:

Essentially the C is the actual Pantone coated. The CP version is a CMYK approximation of the Pantone coated.

I simply don't understand this.

This statement itself makes me doubt.

Does it mean Pantone C is not a CMYK? CMYK is created from Pantone C by some methods (I would like to know how), so that one can print it.

Also, are the Pantone colors (C) are for reference only? The actual printing the printer does is based on CMYK created from Pantone C?

To support my doubts, here's another query: Even Google has created their material design CMYK colors. Just like that, Pantone created their own colors by taking buckets of spot color paints and experimenting on real paper/canvas, and defined CMYK for them?

3 Answers 3


Pantone is a multinational company, like Coca Cola. While this one makes beverages, Pantone manufactures and sells printing inks since 1963.

To sell their inks they created a color chart guide that became one of the most prolific systems based on their printing inks and basic combinations: the PANTONE Matching System®.

  • PANTONE Coated, Uncoated and Matte, offer references of 1,867 colors in mixing percentages of 18 basic inks more transparent white, printed on coated support paper (Pantone C), uncoated (Pantone U) and matte (Pantone M) respectively.
  • PANTONE C and U Process are these same colors but in pattern percentages of just four-color printing inks: Cyan, Yellow, Magenta and Black. The Pantone Process over a coated paper is the Pantone CP, and over an uncoated paper Pantone UP.
  • PANTONE P is an independent guide of 3,000 CMYK colors that bear no relationship to the Pantone Matching System.

There's an easy way to understand this and it's the price of their color charts, the Pantone C and U are much more expensive than the Pantone CP and UP. To make the first ones, they must create all possible combinations of inks, 1867 and print on the type of paper, this means 1867 passes on printing rollers. While for process color charts it's only one printing since the colors are made with halftone patterns using the CMYK four inks.

A few years ago they perfected their inks catalog incorporating the PANTONE Goe system with a range of 2,058 solid colors mixing just 10 base inks plus PANTONE Clear.

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Pantone is not the only company that has printing inks color charts, among others there are the German HKS or the Japanese TOYO Inks.

  • "the Pantone C and U are much more expensive than the Pantone CP and CU." - Is that last bit supposed to say "Pantone CP and UP"? Aug 28, 2019 at 12:12
  • You are right..
    – user120647
    Aug 28, 2019 at 12:27
  • 1
    Your answer is very good. However it could be brilliant if you would explain better that: Tradditionally, there was no expectation that what you see is what you get. And that designers would either testprint several times, or to save cost look up the color out of a color guide. Not monitor, and choose it based on what an actual sample in the end medium looked like ( or as close as they could afford to the end medium swatches) And its still a sane way to work
    – joojaa
    Aug 28, 2019 at 14:28
  • also the process guides are less precise
    – joojaa
    Aug 28, 2019 at 14:35
  • 1
    @joojaa I've asked another question. I'll come to these answers again once clarifying other doubts :) And lovely to see you back @Danielillo :P
    – Vikas
    Aug 28, 2019 at 15:21

Yes you have understood correctly: Pantone colors are not CMYK.

Pantone C colors are actual ink mixes that the printer puts into their printing system. The CMYK values are only approximately correct, more correct to some colors and less to others *. The printer either buys the inks (big volumes) or mixes it using Pantone's own system.

Pantone colors are the standard spot colors. That is how you get to specify the desied color for printers. They didnt do it just like that they did it before any color profiles existed. in essence they made it possible to print same color across the globe. Pantone is very much the traditional way to define color.

* There are just more colors available in Pantone mixing than CMYK so some of the colors are not possible make as CMYK.

** If you find that this does not make sense. Then yes it does not. There is no one thing that is called CMYK color. There are several ones that produce different colors for same CMYK numeric combinations. You have to be careful with these color values as you need to also specify what particular CMYK space you are using. Yeah i know its common not to understand this point.

  • They didnt do it just like that they did it before any color profilea existed. I couldn't understand it. Kindly explain :)
    – Vikas
    Aug 28, 2019 at 15:23

Pantone solids are created from more than just 4 colors. They're mixed from 10 or 18 inks, depending on which system. They're a little bit secretive of this!

As an example, here is the gamut you can achieve from 3 and 7 colors. Now imagine how many more colors are possible from 18!

cymk and cymk+ogb

And after that point, you are likely reaching diminishing returns, as all of your solid combinations are well covered by a mix of your primaries, and you'll reach the limits of human vision. :)

visible light gamut and rgb, pantone and cymk gamuts

The letter following the pantone color number indicates what Pantone system (or book) you're using. For most print & web designers, you'll likely want the Pantone Bridge books to look at colors from your design program, to real solid ink on paper, and real screened CYMK on paper. The type of paper, coated or uncoated, can also have a dramatic difference of appearance for the very same solid ink. This is important if, for example the cover of your book will be coated, but the text block is uncoated—you may want select two different colors!

  • C = coated. It is solid ink on coated paper.
  • CP = coated, process. It's a mix of screens of CYMK, little dots that appear mixed when viewed with the eye.
  • U = uncoated solid.
  • UP = uncoated process.

Your professional offset press print shop can print solid colors, but usually their press only has 6 or 7 ink capacity. C, Y, M, K, AQ (aqueous coating), UV spot (spot gloss), and one spot for you! Spot colors are more expensive as they require mixing, cleaning the ink well, dialing the color in, as well as the ink itself. Typically this is done for logos, or important product colors that you don't get a good replication of with process colors. Also important to consider are solid colors print more cleanly at very fine line widths than process which must go through screens. If you MUST have more than 6/7 inks, you'll get to either use two presses and pay the color change fees, or run pages through twice, waiting for dry times and pay $$$. Also hope your solid is in the correct order for your design, or you'll have to run it through again!

Now lets talk digital presses. Some fancy new digital presses can do spot colors! This used to be reserved for offset jobs only, and if your job run was not large enough to meet offset printing minimums, you were stuck with digital and no fun special effect inks, or solids. I have not seen these presses in the wild, but I do understand they exist from this article: https://www.mohawkconnects.com/article/mohawk-blog/understanding-spot-colors-and-their-role-digital-printing I expect you'd also have additional set up fees for spots on digital printing.

I would ask other local print designers for a good printing rep and begin a relationship with them. They will be happy to give you a tour, give you paper samples and pantone chips (you'll need to buy your own books though, sorry) and advise you when quoting out jobs on the most cost effective ways to design and print your projects. Ask to do press checks on your big jobs (extra cost, but pass it on to client) and you'll learn even more. Call them up when you start to design a job, and they can even find samples of similar printing processes that you want, so you can show your client why they should absolutely pay for a product thats offset printed, UV yellow on top of a double hit white, on black stock. :)

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