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I am having a headache with a brand palette from a client, the values in which don't match Pantone's colour finder values on their website nor my Adobe CC colour books. For example, when I select type 2748 into the Pantone Solid Colour book in Photoshop (brought in from previous version), the CMYK, RGB and Hex values are way off. I wondered if it was the Pantone+ Solid Colour book, but equally none of these are correct. When I type 2748 into the Pantone+ Colour Bridge Coated colour book in Photoshop, I get the CMYK values in the brand palette, but they don't match Pantone's values for 2748CP on the Pantone website. Has anyone come across this before? Visual from the brand palette for ref.

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2 Answers 2

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In my experience brand color palettes are often inaccurate and overly simplified.

This is probably done to make it easier to use for amateurs and keep people on a "need to know basis", but it does not ensure color likeness across different media.

When you start to understand just a little bit about color management, it can actually be very confusing when the color guidelines are simplified.

Let's go through the Pantone, CMYK and RGB/HEX numbers separately and do a little detective work.

Pantone

The brand palette doesn't specify whether the Pantone colors are printed on coated or uncoated paper. It basically just tells you to always use those three Pantone inks, no matter which paper you print on. So the effective color will differ depending on which paper you print on.

Either the designers deliberately chose to not care about that color difference or they aren't aware of the difference.

CMYK

The CMYK colors seem to come from the values you get if you use the color book PANTONE+ Color Bridge Coated that comes with Adobe's applications:

For some reason unknown to me, this is not the same values you get if you find the same colors on Pantone's web site in the PANTONE Color Bridge Coated library:

https://www.pantone.com/color-finder/2748-CP

https://www.pantone.com/color-finder/711-CP

https://www.pantone.com/color-finder/2985-CP

(The numbers might match if you download the software available from Pantone's web site, but I don't have it installed on this computer, so I can't check.)

The brand palette doesn't specify which CMYK color profile it follows. It doesn't even tell you if the CMYK numbers are intended for coated or uncoated paper. The given CMYK numbers will look different when printed on different kinds of paper by print houses following different standards. Here are some random examples:

RGB

The RGB values seem to come from the PANTONE Formula Guide Coated library on Pantone's website:

https://www.pantone.com/color-finder/2748-C

https://www.pantone.com/color-finder/711-C

https://www.pantone.com/color-finder/2985-C

Again no RGB color profile is given, but we can probably assume that it's supposed to be sRGB.

(The HEX codes are just another way of writing the RGB values.)

So what to do?

Pfew, what a mess. I totally understand your confusion, I often find myself in a similar situation trying to faithfully follow the brand guidelines, only to discover that they just don't make completely sense. What to do really depends on how deeply you want to get involved. It's hard for me to answer without knowing what exactly your job is.

If you are producing a whole array of products on different kinds of media and the company demands you to match the colors, this brand palette isn't really a useful tool to accomplish that. It will take much more work to account for all the different situations. If they are really serious (and willing to pay for it) perhaps they should consult the company who made the brand palette.

If you are just doing a smaller job for the company perhaps you should just follow the guidelines and if something goes wrong with the colors you can at least say that you did as instructed.

Sometimes I would even alter the colors slightly myself without telling the client, if I knew that it would produce a better result.

In the end, the shortcomings of the brand palette might be a deliberate choice from the designers. That they have prioritized simplicity and ease of use over color likeness. That they have chosen to accept some error margin as long as the colors are more or less consistent.

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  • A comprehensive answer, thank you for taking the time. You've reassured me that this is not my misinterpretation, rather it is a confusing guide I'm presented with. I've been working freelance in design for print and digital for 17 years now, but doubted myself this time as the guide had come from a large agency, plus Pantone keeps reinventing the books so maybe I'd fallen behind. I didn't like to question the agency in case it was my ignorance!
    – AnnaCh
    Feb 3, 2021 at 12:42
  • As for what I'm aiming to achieve, I am producing digital and print resources and the end result is to ensure they all match to the customer's eye. I'm not the only creative in the team, but considered the lead perhaps, and I've voiced my concerns to the client who is happy for me to re-define the brand colours for all to follow.
    – AnnaCh
    Feb 3, 2021 at 12:42
  • What I was unsure about is setting different values for different outputs, as Scott suggests below, which I've never come across before. I'm the only one managing print, so I can ensure the visual results dependant on coated/uncoated, and I'd produce a RGB guide for those creating for web and office documents. I'm uncomfortable with this route though, it feels messy and open to error. Am I old-fashioned?
    – AnnaCh
    Feb 3, 2021 at 12:42
  • This is a complicated subject. Not easy to go in depth in comments. But if we keep commenting eventually we will get the option to convert the comments to a chat room. That might happen. 😀
    – Wolff
    Feb 3, 2021 at 16:06
  • In general, ensuring the exact same colors on different media is hard (= expensive) to achieve. To reach perfection you'll need to perhaps iterate through several "rounds" of palettes, trying to find colors which can be reproduced on the different media you work with (coated/uncoated paper, fabric, metal, plastic, stickers etc.), make test prints on all materials, measure the deviation, fire the subcontractors who can't deliver a pleasing result, adapt the palette, make new test prints and so on. Honestly, I've never worked for clients of that caliber.
    – Wolff
    Feb 3, 2021 at 16:11
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Your system's color profiles alter values Photoshop will use for auto-conversion. It's common for your system's auto-conversion to not match some stated value by an online conversion tool.

Online, digital, automated converters cal also be wrong. Doesn't matter who makes it.. Pantone, Adobe, Joe Coder... they just aren't always accurate visually because all they are doing is pumping numbers into a formula and spitting out new numbers.

I start with Pantone number for the color I want.

I then see what the auto-conversion determine for CMYK and RGB...

If the CMYK/RGB color is unacceptable, I manually pick the the color I think is best, ignoring any auto-conversions.

Color, to me, is often more about the visual when choosing.

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  • Thanks for answering Scott, I initially thought this is what the designer might have done, but visually they're not consistent. I do however think this might be the best route for me to take it forward - to select the values that appear accurate to the eye against the Pantone defined for solid coated. I was concerned this wasn't professional to do, but I may be stuck in the old days so am reassured to hear you work in this way.
    – AnnaCh
    Feb 3, 2021 at 12:41
  • Scott, when you say you see what the auto-conversion determines, do you mean Adobe's conversion? I've spent some time considering if the pantone refs in this palette and their secondary one are Pantone+ Colour Bridge Coated (as suggested by Wolff above) and the process values suggested in Adobe do match visually, so I think that's my safe route forward, to amend the RGB and Hex in the guide. The Pantone website values in their Colour Finder tool are very different, however, so do I just shrug it off and follow Adobe as truth?
    – AnnaCh
    Feb 3, 2021 at 13:54
  • When you both talk about "trusting your eyes" you must mean comparing what you see in a physical Pantone color book with the preview of CMYK you have on your screen right? This requires having a color calibrated screen and knowing the right CMYK profile to use.
    – Wolff
    Feb 3, 2021 at 16:04
  • @Wolf Yes. My calibration is solid and I keep it that way so I can trust my screen. Of note is I have physical samples I can check against regularly. If something is "off" is generally so minute I'm the only one who notices or it's due to a different substrate than I specified.
    – Scott
    Feb 3, 2021 at 19:20
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    @AnnaCh Your system will tend to be a bit more visually accurate if it's well calibrated. Online converters are simply going number to number and not factoring any color profile. It's the profile that matters for auto conversion. A bad profile can easily make Adobe's in-app conversion just as "off".
    – Scott
    Feb 3, 2021 at 19:21

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