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I'm working on a branding project and having my background in digital disciplines I don't have too much knowledge about color systems.

Currently I'm trying to figure out what are the correct color values in PMS, CMYK and RGB. I did some research and I'm starting in Illustrator (in CMYK mode) with a PMS color and converting PMS to CMYK is pretty simple.

For example: PMS 343C -> C:98 M:0 Y:72 K:61 -> R:0 G:82 B:57

But when I compare those RGB and PMS values in Photoshop side by side, they don't match. I get an RGB value of R:0 G:86 B:67 for PMS 343C with color picker tool.

  • Is this normal or am I doing something wrong?
  • How do I correctly convert that into an RGB value?
  • Should I use the RGB values Illustrator gives or the ones color picker in Photoshop gives?
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    It's normal. It's not an exact science converting colors from one color space/specification to another. Your best bet is probably using actual Pantone swatch books that include RGB and CMYK equivalents, but even then, that's just their particular interpretation of the conversion. – DA01 Jul 15 '15 at 15:41
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    This question might be a duplicate, see relevant question: Pantone color conversions – AndrewH Jul 15 '15 at 16:46
  • Maybe have a look at this, could help: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/34993/… – go-junta Jul 16 '15 at 8:41
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In agreement with DA01, it is best to use the Pantone Bridge to connect the dots, but what you are experiencing is that your "Edit/Color Settings" are probably different from Illustrator and Photoshop.

It is best to set your master color settings in Adobe Bridge and save them as a preset, which then makes all Adobe programs use the same Color Settings.

If you study color management, you'll discover that conversion is tricky. It doesn't just go from RGB to CMYK or PMS. First you have to convert CMYK to LAB using whatever profile Illustrator is set to and then to RGB with whatever profile Photoshop is set to. LAB is "device independent" meaning you cannot tell a printer with CMYK inks to "print 24L 189a 70b" (it wants to know how much cyan to lay down). Theoretically, every Lab value should correspond to a very exact color in the physical universe, in very exact lighting conditions. But unfortunately the LAB conversion isn't perfect, so if you convert CMYK back to RGB, you get a different value. At least the conversion in one direction will always come out the same (when you use the same profile and settings). The French are always researching further into color. Maybe one day they will figure out a better model than Lab.

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This is normal, you're not doing anything wrong and there is no 'right' way to tackle this. Different software, different versions of the same software and even the same version of the same software with different settings will all potentially give you different values for the conversion.

My advise would be to go to the source - PANTONE - and use there xRef tool (https://www.pantone.com/x-ref) to get the values. Pick a Pantone book, pick a colour and then click on the swatch for the 'official' RGB values, amongst other helpful info.

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Is this normal or am I doing something wrong?

It's normal, 3 independent colour systems one based on light, one based on 4 plates merging to form a single colour on paper (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) and one that mixes inks to form a specific colour (against swatch registration samples) onto paper. Bear in mind that even within a single medium like print, CMYK (the common approach) cannot create every colour in a design - it will struggle with orange for example. If orange is a key part of your presentation or the client has asked you to match a specific brand colour, my routine is to go CMYK plus a 5th (Pantone) to ensure the colour they want. Clearly this is more work though as you have to separate the colour in your artwork for it to work on press. It's a good skill to learn though as it can be used to add metallics and finishes like UV over your printed image.

How do I correctly convert that into an RGB value?

There are several ways to do this. The general rule of thumb is to take control yourself, research/trial a routine that you are happy with. Don't rely on software like Acrobat to convert for you... this puts the conversion into the hands of a programmer (albeit a good one) and it may be disappointing.

Should I use the RGB values Illustrator gives or the ones color picker in Photoshop gives?

The point made above about Adobe Bridge is good in respect of removing as many instances of conversion as possible i.e. create a profile and then make sure all Adobe apps stick to this one. I would extend this to include "use one programme primarily and consistently". I find Photoshop quick and easy due to the picker - you can sample a colour (or choose a Pantone value) and get the closest Hex, RGB, CMYK quickly with the CAVEAT discussed above... it wont work in all circumstances and some colours are particularly difficult so in practice you are best to have a second 'checkpoint' for each medium e.g. RAL chips for physical paint matching (for exhibition stands / office interiors), Pantone books for brand colours in print etc.

One valuable tip that has served me well for 18 years. If I am designing the brand from inception, I deliberately choose colours that match closely across CMYK and Screen even though I will give the client the appropriate Pantone references in the brand guide I deliver. Why? Because this makes my fulfilment role much easier and often I can save time / add profit by avoiding expensive 5th and 6th inks printing everything in CMYK (or increasingly on an Indigo digital press) with a decent match to brand. Purists may call this bad practice, a shortcut and suggest that Pantone should always be used for branded print but we live in the real world. (a) 95% of clients wont notice / don't care. (b) I need to make profit from the job as a commercial designer... If the client is corporate, high street recognised, global and can afford detail, then I will put time in the job for special colours, press checks, print on stock samples etc.

  • Thanks Cai for your typo improvements. Appreciate the clean up, Slapped wrist on my part, must try harder. – Applefanboy Sep 7 '16 at 16:41
  • No slapped wrist, I was mainly just adding the quote formatting and got some typos while I was there :) – Cai Sep 7 '16 at 17:42
  • That's fine, as a graphic designer I should know better though, as Jan T said, the detail is as important as the headline. have a great day. – Applefanboy Sep 8 '16 at 7:59

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