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A product or graphic design can exist either in the form of a physical object/print or on a digital screen, which is where most people today consume media. Therefore, when specifying colors it's important that they are consistent both physically and digitally. And since most people consume media digitally, that should be the primary focus when selecting colors which need to exist in both worlds.

Pantone is the most standard way to specify colors. The problem is, about 20% of all pantone colors cannot be represented correctly on digital monitors because most monitors use the sRGB color space, which is small and cannot display all pantone colors.

Therefore, I propose that the designer should select only pantone colors which can be correctly displayed within the sRGB color space to ensure consistency between digital and physical media.

A way to find out which pantone colors are safe to use is to first get the CIE lab value of the pantone color from pantone themselves or here https://www.e-paint.co.uk/lab-hlc-rgb-lrv-values.asp, then use this tool to convert to sRGB: http://www.easyrgb.com/en/convert.php.

If the resulting sRGB value contains a negative value, then that means the pantone color cannot be displayed correctly on a regular monitor. A faster way is to first get the RGB value of the pantone color, and if any of the R, G or B values are 0, it's a good chance it's been clipped and thus fall outside the RGB gamut and should be avoided.

I find it strange that this method has not been discussed anywhere. Also, for some reason it's extremely difficult to find the specific Pantone colors which fall outside the sRGB color space. Adobe do give warning about colors that fall outside the CMYK gamut in Photoshop and Illustrator, but not the sRGB color space.

There are two advantages to this approach. One, consistency is much easier to achieve. Two, the design process runs smoother because less time is wasted tweaking colors which never match and arguing with the client who doesn't understand why the color he agreed to on the monitor doesn't match the real life product.

Does this thinking and approach make sense?

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    Pantone only makes sense if you explicitly need to match Pantone colors (same argument for RAL, Toyo, DIC, HKS, ANPA, GCMI, or any other spot-color matching system). And unless your employer requires it or you’re getting things physically produced using spot colors from that system, you have no need to match those colors. Jan 3, 2023 at 12:39
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    @jrw Never rely on any random online calculator. Only do it if you can look up the formulae and do the math yourself with simple programs you write. Cross check with online sources, for sure, but don't accept them at face value. As to the real crux of the matter, others have answered: the fact that most monitors claim at least close coverage to sRGB doesn't mean a thing regarding color accuracy—you won't get that out there in the wild, period. If you need Pantone for persistent printed colors, go for it, otherwise just forget about it.
    – Gábor
    Jan 3, 2023 at 13:38
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    "arguing with the client who doesn't understand why the color he agreed to on the monitor doesn't match the real life product" I have never, ever seen anything like this. In the old photography days, of course everyone understands that it's really hard to get a good match from the color of the new car (in some certain light or time off day) to the color seen in the photography meeting or then in the (various) magazines. Nobody cares how a photo of the product looks on various computer screens or TVs; obviously every photo/film of a product is totally different on all TVs/display.
    – Fattie
    Jan 3, 2023 at 14:38
  • If you're talking about, literally choosing paint colors for cars or plastic colors for iPhone cases, computers/displays are not even slightly involved in that!
    – Fattie
    Jan 3, 2023 at 14:39
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    I specifically ordered this dress in blue and black, but...
    – Jim Davis
    Jan 3, 2023 at 17:36

4 Answers 4

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Color selection has become, over the years, an entirely mythical dimension. Let's put things in perspective.

  1. Color reproduction on monitors is entirely random. Spending a long time choosing the exact color code is entirely superfluous as most users do not have calibrated monitors. Most people still don't have monitors that can do the full sRGB, nor have their monitors ever been profiled or calibrated.

    Try as a exercise matching the colors of your phone and 3 of your friends monitors... You will be surprised how much the colors vary across the board.

  2. Importance of color accuracy for graphic is widely overblown for historical reasons. It used to be that a significant chunk of all graphic design was done for print and the bulk of that was commercial packaging.

    Now, commercial packaging is a very special case. For commercial packaging you want to be very, even insanely, accurate with color. Why? Well because you can see packages from different print batches and ages next to each other and humans evaluate quality of production by comparing packages of same brand. So you're competing same package with same package. Here color reproduction has a really big notable price difference for sellers, often in hundreds of thousands.

    This does not apply to web pages, no one is going to discriminate color changes from screen to screen as long as you don't do a flickering animation. Mainly because you can't ensure the right color anyway.

So:

Therefore, I propose that the designer should select only Pantone colors which can be correctly displayed within the RGB gamut to ensure consistency between digital and physical media.

No need to do this. You need to work within the color range of the medium. If you do this you might end up needing to reduce the vibrance of your color pictures to compensate. Ultimately, it does not matter all that much.

Though I understand that now a million people, who want rigid rules to follow so as to not make a mistake, are screaming in horror.

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  • Many good points. I guess I'm one of those who prefer rules to stick to, so that my job runs smoother. My idea is that it's a way to prevent endless discussions with uninformed clients who expect the same color everywhere. Just getting rid of the troublesome colors will instantly solve a big chunk of the problem.
    – jrw
    Jan 1, 2023 at 17:57
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    @jrw - clients are certainly sometimes a problem. They often have unrealistic expectations that exceed all practicality - but there are also bad clients who will try to utilize any excuse to get a refund. Perfect color reproduction is not a thing, never has been, and never likely will be.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jan 1, 2023 at 18:19
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    @jrw well, what can i say you can not avoid the pain whatever you do. i had a client once request a whiter white than the monitor could do. No, not a brighter image a whiter white out of his monitor. He wanted his webpage to be whiter than others pages. Needless to say i did something else. Point is you cant win. see seven red lines
    – joojaa
    Jan 1, 2023 at 18:48
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    That last line is precious :)
    – Scott
    Jan 1, 2023 at 22:49
  • Everything you say is true of course, but color matching "within reason" is still important. There have been dealers who lost lawsuits because they boosted or ignored color matching on real-world artworks (see for example Lipsky v. Spanierman).
    – Yorik
    Jan 3, 2023 at 15:03
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The thing about digital media - ads, photos, etc. - is.. they don't necessarily need to "match" real world exactly. I mean the burgers and food you see digitally never match what you actually get when purchased.

One can't try and defraud, however advertising imagery is often not "real world". Ice cream melts too fast under photography lighting... so scoops of lard can be used to simulate ice cream in photographs... cheese tends to looks very greasy, so other substances are used to simulate cheese in photography. With this in mind.. why would there be a concern that a digital image matches a product off of a press? The two will never look the same.

Remember the Pantone Matching System wasn't created for RGB. In fact, RGB wasn't even a blip in anyone's mind at the time of Pantone's inception. Personal computers didn't exist. And, for the most part, only over-the-air broadcast television and film (as in actually going to a movie theater) were the only RGB outlets.

Pantone is trying to adapt and remain relevant for the digital space. Whether or not they are succeeding is a discussion in itself.


Color matching in an RGB environment — across millions of different computers, using millions of different monitors, all with varying operating systems and calibration settings (if calibrated at all), and varying color profiles — is nothing short of a pipe dream. This makes Pantone RGB rather irrelevant.


For me, what's important is that the product looks like the product and any imagery of the product makes a good impression, regardless of any 1:1 color matching.

Pantone adherence is for printing. When it comes to RGB, Pantone values are at best a "suggestion" and never an absolute. I've never tried to adhere to any Pantone value for digital delivery. I will remain consistent with RGB colors though. If I feel a Pantone isn't working for digital delivery, I tweak the RGB values, and note the new values. Then try and match those RGB values in product imagery moving forward.

But this is just my opinion.

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  • I get that colors will look different, but some clients are not understanding of this fact. So instead of endless color tweaking, frustrated designers and angry clients, would you agree that if we simply ignored the pantone colors that cannot be displayed digitally, the entire design process would be much smoother?
    – jrw
    Jan 1, 2023 at 17:43
  • That's a personal choice @jrw -- but it is not uncommon for educated professionals to specifically not use something due to possible ramifications later - including client issues a resource may cause. For me, I try and always stick to 3 digit Pantone numbers. Why? Merely because I know 3-digit inks will most often cost client's less money on press. I've honestly almost never found a specific Pantone color I had to use. There's practically always a "close enough" in the 3-digit colors. (Disclosure: once or twice I have found 4-digit colors that I wanted and couldn't match with 3-digits).
    – Scott
    Jan 1, 2023 at 17:48
  • Thanks for the tip regarding 3 digit numbers, I was not aware of that.
    – jrw
    Jan 1, 2023 at 18:06
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    Imho, I don't use Pantone and discourage clients from using Pantone. Just thinking about thinking about these things makes a job uninteresting to me. "Close enough" works like a charm: if its a red, its a red, if its a blue, its a blue. I will generally use the RGB and CMYK values from their ID. This may sound superficial, but there are plenty of high budget clients who don't know/don't care what Pantone is.
    – Lucian
    Jan 1, 2023 at 18:48
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You say that "20% of all Pantone colours cannot be represented correctly on digital monitors". Don't know where you found that information, but I would refute it. It's the other way round. I would say that it's more like 40% of all RGB colours can't be physically represented in Pantone (or rather in print).

The Pantone gamut is mostly well within the RGB gamut, except for a very few green-yellow-orange ink mixes, and those are so slight that most human beings would probably not notice it anyway. CMYK is fully within the RGB gamut. There is no CMYK colour that cannot be reproduced on a monitor. IMHO this is just a non-issue most of the time. It's not worth troubling about.

enter image description here

There are obviously some exceptions to this, such as Pantone metallic and fluorescent inks which have pigments with physical properties that can't be reproduced on a monitor, but by far the vast majority of standard Pantone colours are well within the RGB gamut.

The more challenging problem is that there are many RGB colours which can't be reproduced in print. Going from RGB to print is always going to be problematic. There's no physical way to resolve this problem. Ultimately, ink colours on a piece of paper can't emit light like a monitor can.

A secondary issue is that accurate RGB colour representation on all devices is not something that is currently feasible. The best way currently available would be that everyone viewing a digital image should calibrate their monitor/device using an external calibration device, and use a standard RGB colour profile (such as sRGB). But this is just not practical for every-day computer/smart phone users. There are just too many variables: too many device manufacturers/screen technologies to make this work well.

TL/DR - my advice would be to be mindful of RGB to print gamut problems when designing/illustrating, but there is no real reason why work intended for digital display should match its print output exactly anyway. TBH, they will never really look the same. With colour, everything is subjective. If you really must match an on screen colour to its print counterpart, then work in CMYK, or using Patone colours, and convert to RGB for output for screens.

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    The gamut is actually 3 dimensional. Evaluating the thing form a flat representation makes RGB seem unnecessarily big, theres lots of colors in print space that are out of gamut for RGB but are under the thing you see in most images. Its not nesseserily colors you want to use but still the overlap is a bit more complicated. ALso which RGB color space are we talking about here. I mean ProPhoto can cover mostly the entire human visual space. Though no device can capture or show the entire ProPhoto space and never will (since it contains a coordinate system that's outside of possible colors)
    – joojaa
    Jan 1, 2023 at 16:32
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    While im not refuting that RGB is generally bigger. Your image is used as a proof without any valid commentary on what im looking at and how i would reproduce that
    – joojaa
    Jan 1, 2023 at 16:35
  • @joojaa Yes I realize that in reality the gamut is 3D, the 2D representation is a huge simplification. However, RGB to Print is the main issue, and going from Print to RGB is much less of an issue. Add to that the fact that most people will not see the same RGB colours on their devices as a designer does anyway, then the whole issue is a bit pointless anyway, a storm in a teacup.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jan 1, 2023 at 16:48
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    Yeah, but in reality the color reproduction is probably a red herring anyway.
    – joojaa
    Jan 1, 2023 at 16:49
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    @jrw, I suspect I'm a lot like you--I like to do things the safest, smartest and most-accurate way, and love it when numbers back me up. That said, years of Pantone/CMYK/RGB graphic design experience has taught me that that there are RGB colors that represent specific Pantone colors well, and there are those that do it poorly, but there's simply no such thing as an RGB color that literally matches a Pantone color; you just pick an RGB color that decently captures the vibe of the Pantone color across a few different screens, then consistently use it.
    – briguy328
    Jan 4, 2023 at 4:11
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The problem is, about 20% of all pantone colors cannot be represented correctly on digital monitors because most monitors use the sRGB color space, which is small and cannot display all pantone colors.

No. USA most simple CMYK is not fully contained in sRGB and vice versa and we know in 2015 7-color printing system was developed, adding Violet in CMYKOGV, that can cover 90% of 1114 spot colors, while CMYK only about 60%.

Then there is also the opposite here: I have no sRGB displays. All my displays are at least 99% P3-D65 (that is all iPhones, all Samsung, all LG, etc). They are almost all by default in sRGB mode but will switch when APIs see WCG image. One Tablet is 103% P3, but that may be in area.

That is not enough though, some Pantone colors require HDR too.

first get the CIE lab value of the pantone color from pantone themselves or here https://www.e-paint.co.uk/lab-hlc-rgb-lrv-values.asp, then

That is a mistake. Since at least 2010 Pantone no longer uses LAB as their master. Did you even see spectrums of the sun? What is called SPD, spectral power destibution? That is used as master on their PantoneLive. CxF format. https://www.iso.org/standard/61503.html

Also, for some reason it's extremely difficult to find the specific Pantone colors which fall outside the sRGB color space.

It is hard, but possible. This has multiple color spaces, sRGB, P3, Adobe RGB, and CMYK Fogra. https://cielab.xyz/forum/viewtopic.php?p=3371

sRGB: http://www.easyrgb.com/en/convert.php.

Using this calculator is indeed not the best idea. What I personally use is color-science. https://colab.research.google.com/drive/1frpSJy18r7O0pCQ6nDT3pUGC3pX-AyZB?usp=sharing

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