I have the branding guidelines in PDF format (so viewing on screen) for an organisation with the specific Pantone Colours displayed alongside their code.

Now when I add swatches for these Pantone colours and export as a PDF from InDesgin, the colours are quite far out. Note that I'm viewing both PDFs on the same screen and using Adobe Reader.

Any ideas how to combat this or why this is happening?

The colours are being used in a digital environment at the moment for some website redesign so I could use colour picker software to get the RGB values HOWEVER when we later move onto print work I want to ensure I'm using the Pantones.

enter image description here

As can be seen in the screenshot, the exported Pantones seem dull and muted compared to the original Brand Guidelines document.

  • 1
    Screen shots of the colors misbehaving? Feb 3, 2013 at 20:48
  • I've added a screenshot @OghmaOsiris Feb 3, 2013 at 21:50
  • Indesign CS6? CS6 switched to LAB builds for Pantone colors which are far less vibrant than the CMYK builds.
    – Scott
    Feb 3, 2013 at 21:57
  • Yes it is CS6 actually Feb 3, 2013 at 22:44

3 Answers 3


This is applicable to Creative Suite 6 applications only, previous versions of Adobe software will not be effected by this.

Adobe/Pantone felt it was a good idea to include the Pantone+ color books in CS6 applications. The Pantone+ books are built upon LAB values and do not contain CMYK color builds. Previous versions of the software included both LAB and CMYK builds.

You'll find LAB builds of the Pantone colors in the Pantone+ color books to be far less vibrant on the whole. You can see this in older software versions if you alter the spot color build to LAB rather than the default CMYK build.

Pantone states this "is to better represent color on press". I find that a bit arguable. In my opinion, Pantone needs to sell things... so every year or two they "reinvent" something which was working fine in order to generate revenue. After all CMYK builds have been in use for, what? 20+ years?

In any respect, you can check THIS LINK at Adobe.com to see how to use older color books, with the traditional CMYK color builds, in Indesign CS6. The page will state it is for Illustrator, but continue reading, it applies to both Illustrator and Indesign CS6.

  • 1
    a specific and perfect answer, thanks for your help @Scott Feb 3, 2013 at 23:34
  • A question @Scott. If an agency has built the website based on CMYK builds of the colours rather than spot, does that mean there will be noticeable differences between the website and print material?....if you use a colour picker on the spot colours vs CMYK builds you get a different hex and noticeably visual difference in colour for the web :S Feb 3, 2013 at 23:37
  • 1
    Conversion to Hex has always been "best guess" since you can't truly convert CMYk to RGB. However, if you note the CMYK build of the previous Pantone color book, you should be able to use those values to generate Hex values fairly close. Simply input the CMYK values into the Color picker. I wouldn't use any "eyedropper method". I would NOT use the LAB values from the Pantone+ books, but that's me.
    – Scott
    Feb 3, 2013 at 23:45
  • 1
    Also note.. if you open a legacy file (Indesign or Illustrator) with a CS6 version, the Pantone colors with their CMYK color builds are present in CS6 and appear correct. The Pantone+ issue is really only present when creating a new file in a CS6 app if you haven't reinstalled the older color books as the Adobe link in the answer suggests.
    – Scott
    Feb 3, 2013 at 23:51
  • Regardless of Adobe and Pantone's unhelpful practices, you won't run into this problem if you follow the advice in my answer. I have often seen bad results even in the old model, even with following Pantone's own spot to process conversions. Always do your research and carefully spec values for each color space. Feb 4, 2013 at 3:30

A standards guide should provide each color in the three relevant formulations:

  1. Spot (Pantone)
  2. Print process (CMYK)
  3. Screen (hex or RGB)

The values for each are spelled out in text under a single swatch for exact reference. It doesn't matter what the user's screen displays since they always have the numbers right in front of them.

A spot color in InD will rarely display well on screen. For that reason, if you are distributing the document for electronic use, your reference swatch on page should use the RGB version of the color.


First, having a Pantone solid uncoated formula guide by hand, I would say that the upper (duller) color looks closer to the sample than the bottom one. But actually both of your screenshots look quite far from the truth (the 485U sample looks darker and more to the brown, and 299U looks even less vibrant).

I've converted 485U into RGB in Photoshop and it gave me #c66753, and 299U gave #548cd3, which is much closer to what I see.

Second, and more important, it's an extemely bad idea to design for screen using the PMS color specifications. Here's why.

The Pantone Matching System you are referring to has been designed specifically for print. The number of the color (without a letter index) does not actually specify the color itself as we see it - it specifies the coloring properties of the pigment used in printing. The actual color you get on a printed material will differ greatly depending on the paper characteristics. For this reason there are letter indices: C for Coated, M for Matte, U for Uncoated - to have a screen estimation of how the printed material will look like.

In your case, you have “U” colors. You would expect any U color to be rather dull because it imitates the pigment being printed on a paper with high soaking ability.

Converting a PMS number to RGB value (which you actually need for screen design) is not unambiguous. It depends on the software (proved above with CS5/CS6 difference) and active CMYK and RGB profiles used in your color settings. That's why you can use PMS number only as a very rough reference when designing for screen.

The best thing you can do in your situation is to find a printed Pantone solid uncoated formula guide and compare what you see with the available variants.

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