I am going to buy Pantone (C/U) and CMYK (C/U) patterns. How should I choose the colors for my designs? First CMYK, then Pantone and RGB last?

  • Are you going to produce digital designs or will you be using your designs as print? Can you please elaborate a bit more, what is the outcome you want to achieve ? Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 6:47
  • I design for print. I think if CMYK color space is the smallest I should choose CMYK color as first. Then i should find the matching Pantone color. At the end I need to check what sRGB color match to Pantone. Are these steps correct?
    – j095
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 7:16
  • I don't think you need any RGB related colours. Because In RGB colours there are colours that the CMYK don't even have, you will get all confused. I advice you to get a pantone book or just look it up online what colours you want and copy the exact colour code into your designs. Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 7:21

4 Answers 4

  1. Pick your Pantone colours. It's important to pick these in a light that you will view them in typically. If your designs will be viewed outside, see what they look like in daylight (if you can, at different times of the day as the light will change and time permitting on a cloudy / sunny / rainy day).
  2. Once you have picked your Pantone, then you should the be able to make your CMYK match too.
  3. Now you pick your RGB. Remember that so far we have picked colours that your eye see with reflected light and RGB is projected light (see this for more info). Don't try to get an exact match, remember different monitors have different contrast and lightness settings, so these can effect your colours quite a lot. Pick you colour that work well over multiple monitors (and if possible check it on a TV as well, I recommend this as you never know when your logo will appear on a TV or projector at an event).
  • Pantone colors are dependent on the surface. CMYK colors are dependent on paper, ink, etc. RGB colors are dependent on the size of the color space and displays.. How should freelancer work? The best way is not choose colors. The printing house should do it, but I have to do before them. Unfortunately, I don't know what paper/material/plastic/metal will be use. What should I buy (pantone/cmyk guides) and how should I work as a freelancer (logos and stationery)?
    – j095
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 6:02
  • You can never have complete control over everything, at some point you need to accept sometimes stuff will be ever so different. All colours are surface dependant, not just Pantone. You can CMYK print on to metal, glass etc. I'd just by the Pantone one for now if you are worried about cost and then when you go to print, let your printer know that you want to match as close to Pantone XYZ and trust them to do their job. Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 9:43

The short answer is, pick Pantones first and then test, test, test!

Pantone helpfully supply conversion breakdowns to both CMYK and RGB (via their colour bridge swatch books, their app or their website). Use these as a starting point, then test.

For RGB, test the colours across different screens and devices, including any ‘key’ screens for the brand (if you have access to them). Adapt RGB breakdowns to get the best average colours across all the screens.

For CMYK, test across a variety of print processes and substrates – litho coated, litho uncoated, digital and newsprint would be my recommendation as a minimum. As with RGB, if there are any print processes and substrates relevant to ‘key’ touch-points for the brand, then you should also consider testing these. If the cost of ‘wet proofing’ is not an option, then use a colour-calibrated proofing system such as a GMG RIP combined with a multi-ink ink jet printer. My preference is to use a GMG enabled proofer first to pick optimal colour breakdowns before verifying the colours with wet-proofing.

A few pointers on the above…

  • Pantone-recommended conversion breakdowns are a good starting point but usually need adjusting slightly to get the best results for some colours

  • If a CMYK Pantone-recommended breakdown includes low percentages (1%, 2%, 3%), I'd usually rationalise the breakdown down to 0%. The same applies to very high percentages (95%+), I'd usually rationalise these to 100%. The reason being to reduce the amount of inks and printed screens/dots

  • The importance of the colour testing stage in a brand re-design is often vastly under-estimated and under-scoped. The relative low-cost of testing compared to brand roll-out costs should be obvious, but is often only realised after expensive mistakes!

  • The exception to this process is if you are designing for a digital-led brand, whose presence is predominantly going to be on-screen. In this instance, consider starting with RGB so you get the benefit of the brighter colours and larger colour-gamut available on-screen.


Printing method is the determining factor, and the only thing that matters. Are you going to print with RGB colors? No, of course not. Are you going to print with Pantone colors? Are you sure? The vast majority of commercial printing, from newspapers to magazines to flyers to direct mail cards to books to postcards -- is web or sheet fed offset with process colors (CMYK). If that's the method you'll be using for printed materials, that is the color system to work in. It's vital to have a swatch book that is printed with the method you will use, on similar paper stock. Look at Focoltone and especially TRUMATCH for CMYK.

The idea of starting with Pantone and converting to CMYK is a fresh-from-art-school mistake. That is not how production designers with real press experience work, because it's not accurate. You must use actual print samples -- and get matchprints, and do press checks -- if you don't want nasty surprises in process print jobs.

If you really are doing a lot of spot color (like Pantone) printing, then make sure, again, to match the paper stock, screen frequency, and brand. Don't specify Pantone colors using Pantone swatch books, and then go to a press that uses different brands of ink.


I don't think it matters which order you pick your colors in since they're all used differently.

The point of Pantone is that you get the exact color you pick every time it's printed anywhere. CMYK can vary from printer to printer and RGB can vary from display to display.

Also, you can't just pick a Pantone color in Illustrator/Photoshop, then change the color system to CMYK/RGB to get those values and think it will be equivalent. The conversion color values will vary depending on your color profile. It's an ok way to start, but you'll have to test and probably tweak them to make sure they work for your artwork.

  • Usually the conversion values are in the printed Pantone pattern itself
    – Luciano
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 16:47
  • True, but it's really only there for convenience. You still have the problem of differently calibrated monitors and the various printers inks and papers. Not to mention all their colors that can't even be reproduced in CMYK or RGB.
    – Mysterfxit
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 16:57
  • 1
    To be clear, Pantone matches exactly only because Pantone swatches are printed with Pantone ink, and you then use the same ink on the printing press. If you don't use Pantone spot color ink, there's no point in picking Pantone colors. You don't decide you like a Rustoleum Gold spray paint and then ask the paint guy to make the same color for you but using Behr color tints.
    – user8356
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 15:37

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