I've recently designed a cosmetic label for a client and I've given them the final file to have it printed at their designated printer companies.

But a few have them have come back and said that they can't print it because the colour isn't a Pantone when in fact, on my Illustrator file I clearly picked a Pantone colour because on my colour swatch, it says "Pantone 649U".

Does anyone know why they might be saying that? Is it just me or have I done my file wrongly?

I'm so positive that I've used a Pantone colour because the usual printer company I go to have managed to print it true to colour when I tested it but every time my client gets back to me about one of her printers, it's either the colour comes out so neon or it's a completely different colour or they just say they can't print it because it's "not a Pantone" colour.

If anyone could shed some light as to what I'm doing wrong, that would be great!

  • 6
    Have you checked whether your Illustrator swatch is a spot swatch (taken directly from the Pantone library), or whether it has been converted to a process swatch? Converting it to a process swatch will not change its name, so if it was originally chosen as a Pantone colour but then converted to a process swatch, it will still be called “Pantone 649U”, but in reality be a CMYK colour, rather than a Pantone colour. Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 12:17
  • 2
    What file format are you sending them? If it's a PDF, how is the colour described in Acrobat? Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 12:39
  • I know my card is a Porsche because it has a bumper sticker saying "this car is a Porsche".
    – Yakk
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 16:07
  • Thanks guys. I'll have a double check as to how I export it and on acrobat but I'm pretty sure I've selected my pantone colour from the pantone books on Illustrator. But I'll have a go again and see what happens.
    – user54059
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 23:28
  • 1
    You probably need to post an example of a PDF generated by you.
    – Rafael
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 0:27

2 Answers 2



A Pantone is a Pantone when it's a "spot" color.

Make sure your Pantone swatches have the color type "spot color". Even if you color swatch says Pantone XYZ, it doesn't make it a Pantone; if it's not a spot color, it will be considered as a process color (CMYK).

pantone spot color adobe illustrator

Conversion during export

If you are 100% certain that your swatches are "spot" then maybe the issue is how you prepare your files and what profile you're working with.

Your color mode should be set to CMYK.

When you export, the section "output" has a setting for color conversion. Verify that this is set to "no conversion" when you export a PDF otherwise your file might end up in CMYK or RGB or Grayscale.

export pdf illustrator with spot color pantones

How to verify a PDF

If you export your files as PDF, be careful to not convert them to CMYK or RGB inthe process.

One way to verify your file (if it' a PDF), is to open them in Adobe Acrobat Pro and find the Output Preview in the tool sets.

Then uncheck all the Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black and see what's left on your layout. Logically if you used a spot color Pantone, that color should also be in the list of inks. If you don't see it then it probably means 1) you didn't set your swatches to be "spot" or 2) you exported your file and converted it in the process.

spot colors in adobe acrobat pro

If you sent an .ai or .eps

If you sent the original Illustrator file,there's no reason why your colors appear in CMYK if you verified the details mentioned above. The issue is somewhere else.

If you sent any raster file (png, jpg) then it's possible there's no spot Pantone left in your layout.

Your images being neon

That does sound like some RGB issue. When you work on a print project, forget about RGB unless you know for sure the printer can handle it.

Print projects are usually in grayscale, Pantones or CMYK. The color mode you use is very important.

The proof you got also depends on the machine that printed it. If you got a digital proof, it's certainly a possibility it's not 100% calibrated and the colors are often more "luminous". Since you used an uncoated version of your Pantone preview, the colors could look different than what you expected.

Your previous printer

Printers often fix designers' files without telling them because they don't always have time to wait for the revised files because of the printing schedule or don't have time to educate designers on this! It's possible your previous printer simply fixed your file without telling you. If all the others say the file is in process, it might be a possibility. Maybe you simply changed the "output" color conversion while doing your export in PDF without noticing it on the new files, these things happen!

  • 1
    It is unclear to me that the Printer is actually running an offset press with a spot plate. The OP description sounds an awful lot like the file is given to the client, and the client has an intern (etc) send it to a all-digital upload print service. Consider that the OP gets good results when handling the job with a known vendor. In fact, the neon color may be someone up the chain naively dealing with CMYK JPEG
    – Yorik
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 18:46
  • 1
    @Yorik It's possible the client goes to print as digital and not all digital printers are calibrated for Pantone; so they convert them or use their own fail library of uncalibrated Pantones, and usually the result is not very nice! You're right, online printers don't bother reviewing anything, they just print things wrong and ship them. Same for places like Fedex/Kinko. People get what they pay for, and indeed knowing what's the printing process used could help. I guess that's another part of the issue and the OP should ask if it's offset or digital, and prepare the files accordingly!
    – go-junta
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 19:15

I print Dye Sublimation at work. About 90% of the time the PMS swatches from Illustrator are off. A number of factors change the actual color output, some of these things may not pertain to you but no the less.

  • Clog heads in the printer
  • Material printed on
  • Rip file settings
  • Room lighting
  • Heat Transfer time

I could go on but I imagine that whom ever the actual printer is has a setting or two off. I for one have a couple 100 manual color changes directly in my rip software, as well as a few totally different rip settings.

Add on top of that each rip setting will print the same color a little different.

I could print PMS200 on 3 different rip setting and will have 3 different reds.

As go-meek said it could be a uncoated vs coated issue as well.

I suspect its an issue with the printer or the client. I would communicate with them further and see if they do any color correction to fit their printers or if they have their own custom PMS swatches for you to use.

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