QUESTION 1 I've done quite a bit of a research, but I can't wrap my head around Pantone colours. I understand that this is a "system" for achieving exact colours. But how is this achieved? I assume there are no "Pantone Inks", right? So how is this achieved, I just don't get it :(

I was also using online conversion tools from Pantone (I own a solid coated palette) and on the screen, the colours worked very good. I've never had issues them not matching.

QUESTION 2 Now I am designing for textile print, which the printer needs in RGB. My second question is - will the colours vary too much if using a Pantone - RGB convertor?

Thank you so much!

  • 5
    There are indeed "Pantone Inks", that is exactly how Pantone works.
    – Cai
    Sep 9, 2016 at 16:22

4 Answers 4


But how is this achieved?

The system is not perfect. I personally do not like a lot of dumb decisions they made. But the basic idea is that they have:

  • A catalog of consistent printed colors.

  • A set of base colors and the formulas to achive the derivated colors.

  • The base colors have some specific values on colorimetry that are repeatable by diferent manufacturers of inks.

I assume there are no "Pantone Inks", right?

Yes and no. Pantone is the system to have a consistent color. Then, diferent ink manufacturers make a set of base inks based on the specifications.

So a manufacturer "HappyInks Inc." make an ink, for example "Pantone Reflex Blue"

Printers then go to the formula guide to find the recipy for the colors on the catalog, and go and buy from "Happy Inks" the basic set of colors.

They combine "Pantone Reflex Blue" with "Pantone Sunrise Yellow" in some specified proportions (from the pantone formula guide) to achive "Green XXXc".

If you are going to need a lot of ink of one specific color, the printer do not mix the base inks themselves, but ask for "Happy Inks" to make them some kilos of the ink (based, again on the pantone specifications).

The quality of diferent brands can be more or less accurate. Besides that some characteristics of inks can differ because some could be oriented to silk print, or textiles etc.

the printer needs in RGB.

This is a biiiiiig mistake.

RGB is not by any means an acurate color reference. Either your printer is lazy or he is simply using some kind of digital print (but still is ignorant(*).

You need to include a RGB profile. Either sRGB or Adobe 1998 but you need to design using a CMYK profile, which obviously you do not have. So ask for which one is more suitable for that.

If they have no idea or say something like "It does not matter" use one according to your location. SWOP 2, Fogra, Gracol, etc.

Will the colours vary too much if using a Pantone - RGB convertor?

If the project is on flat inks, the proper step would be that you deliver a project in Pantone and let them do the conversions, so they are responsable to match the color the best way possible.

This is why I say they are Ignorant. (*) They ignore what is the calibration of their own machine. They should profile it and give you some clues on what "generic profile" suits them the most.

textile print

This does not say much. Are you printing rolls and rolls of fabric? Are you printing a Tshirt on a digital medium, like a logo for a student party? Are you using silk print for the campain for a company?

An Aditional note

will the colours vary too much

Colors vary for a looooooooot of reasons.

My clasic example, grab a water based cyan marker. You have a specific ink one and only one.

Now go an paint everywhere you want. A news paper, a magazine, a window, a white towel, toilet paper, your hand.

See? The exact same ink vary a lot. This is why you must have an output color profile, so this gives the internal conversions and calculations to have the most acurate color possible due this combination of factors, which color on which medium.

This is why the printer should be responsable for the color conversions.

Aditional Note 2

There are some conversions from pantone to cmyk and rgb... Ouch.

This are very specific conversions. On some "ideal" situations.

More or less how an ink will be printed following exact specifications, for example a CMYK: type of paper, type of inks, controlled ammount of them (densitometry), etc.

For an RGB one they assume a calibrated monitor, Correct gamma, correct temperature, sRGB profile. But again this rgb simulation is for output for a web page for example, not as a printable file.

Spot color (Pantone), or Color selection (CMYK)

Depending on the type of design you have the choice to print in either of this 2 color modes.

For example, a design with gradients and diferent colors most likely needs to be printed in color selection.

But some other type of design needs to be printed with spot inks, or direct colors, this reduces costs and aditionally allow the colors to be consistent

  • Hi Rafael. Thank you so much for taking the time and explaining the while thing in such a detail! 👌🏽😊 Now all of it makes sense. Everywhere I looked described it as a "system for matching colours", but nowhere it said that there actually are any base "pantone inks" which when mixed according to a formula will make consistent colours. Just one thing I am unsure about - if I want the printer to print a specific Pantone color, how do I know they are able to do this? Do I just ask if they print pantone colors? 😁
    – Veronika
    Sep 10, 2016 at 8:11
  • What I'm working on is a fabric (on the rolls) design printed on cotton, but different qualities/types of fabric. These will be used for home & accessories. Yes your guess was correct and they are using digital print and I don't have much experience in this, so I just seen some samples and they were ok. But I was also considering selling on Zazzle ant they are printing "RGB or CMYK" and also on cushions, t-shirts or towels, ... So I just thought this was a standard. But now I am a little worried that the colours will come out dull and not crisp.
    – Veronika
    Sep 10, 2016 at 8:11
  • I've seen that pantone have a specific range for the fashion and home industry, but again I'm not sure if printers I'll be going to use will be using pantone. I guess I need to learn a bit about colors 😁 But it's so overwhelming that I don't know where to start, so I just "learn as I go". So thanks again for the patience and an amazing answer! :)
    – Veronika
    Sep 10, 2016 at 8:12
  • Can you post a small pice of the type of design you are making? Depending on that using spot colors can be the correct answer or not.
    – Rafael
    Sep 11, 2016 at 2:23

I just read some previous comments, this one in particular:

"RGB is not by any means an acurate color reference. Either your printer is lazy or he is simply using some kind of digital print (but still is ignorant(). You need to include a RGB profile. Either sRGB or Adobe 1998 but you need to design using a CMYK profile, which obviously you do not have. So ask for which one is more suitable for that. If they have no idea or say something like "It does not matter" use one according to your location. SWOP 2, Fogra, Gracol, etc."*

This is WRONG advice. RGB (adobe RGB) IS an accurate colour reference and industry standard if you're digital printing. Also, if you're sending an RGB file, then you need to ABSOLUTELY be working in the same RGB profile right from the start, do NOT work in CMYK and then convert/embed to RGB - that's not good if you want a consistent visual workflow between your screen and prints. In fact, that applies to all printing no matter if its paper or fabric/whatever - consistency is key, avoid 'conversions' of colours at all costs/your own peril!.

CMYK is ONLY relevant for fabric printing if you need to use it for SPECIFIC colours that do not fall within the Adobe RGB spectrum. It is the traditional colour profile to use if you are screen printing as you will achieve very solid/flat/saturated colour that can only be achieved through screen printing. You might also need to print metallics or neon spot colours, that can only be achieved in CMYK.

Digital printing has come on a long way and the colours you can print now are very wide ranging - work in Adobe RGB on a wide gamut display and you'll be happy :)


Not sure how you're getting on or if you managed to wrap your head around the whole printing on fabric debacle (!) BUT my advice is to forget about Pantones altogether, other than using them for initial palette creation/inspiration - they are after all just a guide, and that's the key to using them with fabrics.

If you are printing exclusively on cotton, the Pantone cotton book can be worth using - just select your colours right from the book/fan (and use the relevant software chipset, TCX) but if you're digital printing on different materials, you just need to start working in Adobe RGB (1998) profile and embed that - it is the most extensive colour space for fabric printing. I'd be quite cautious of any factory/printer requesting sRGB files, either the person requesting it doesn't quite understand the limitations OR their printing equipment isn't the best there is. sRGB means 'standard' RGB - i.e limited colour range.

CMYK is only useful for silkscreen prints - prohibitively expensive, so don't work in that space, unless you have a specific need/want to.

What you should invest in, is a Monitor with a large/wide gamut - you need one with the largest Adobe RGB coverage (above 95% at least) - my current 4 mid-range recommendations are:

-- Dell UltraSharp UP2716D -- Eizo ColorEdge CS2420 -- BenQ SW2700PT -- Philips 328P6AUBREB --

They have good 'out of the box' calibration but I'd also recommend getting an X-Rite i1 Display pro tool - solid device and simple to use.

Once you have a Wide gamut display and it is properly calibrated, and you work in Adobe RGB and send the file with the colour embedded, your printed fabrics will closely match your screen colours. It will never be a 100% match of course, but it will be super close if you colour manage that way. Forget 'soft proofing' it's pointless, no two fabrics are the same and unless you work in completely unchangeable light conditions, you'll never see a 'true' interpretation on screen. Same applies to any print intention - soft proofing is never a good idea, you need actual printed materials to proof properly.

The problem with fabric printing is that often times people you liaise with are very unsure/ill-informed about colour management themselves and conversations about 'profiling' and colour space etc. becomes a game of email ping pong.

To alleviate this, I spent a long time creating my own Adobe RGB full spectrum chipset/atlas on illustrator, with the exact RGB code under each chip. This is what I use religiously to create my artwork, as I have a gigantic piece of silk printed with the atlas on it. I now have two precise tools - the digital chipset and the actual fabric print and the two work hand in hand, and my screen looks pretty much identical to the printout.

This is really the only way to work efficiently and without guessing.

If you do the same, create an array/chipset of colours on your computer - a wide array if you can be bothered spending the time (its worth it) then get your printer to print this chipset on whatever fabric you want to use, you'll then have two precise tools to work from. It actually doesn't matter then (going forward) what fabric you'll work from, just send the same artwork of your chipset and ask them to print you a sample on a different fabric. The key to this is that you always have an actual printed reference and you have the same file on your computer.

I'm planning on selling my own digital file with my chipset as I think it is indispensable a lot of the time and could really help fabric designers, but it took me two weeks of intense screen eyeballing to create so I need to think about how to do this. Feel free to contact me and I can keep you in the loop if you're interested.


  • please don't use the answer to advertise your own services/products.
    – Luciano
    Apr 18, 2018 at 8:46
  • Luciano, please contribute constructively & positively on threads where people are trying to help others. Please leave negativity at the door. Apr 18, 2018 at 9:13

If a very specific color is needed (consistency) or if you are using the same color in a significant portion of the document Spot colors are the way to go (efficiency).Printing in CMYK the vendor will be using 4 different types of ink as as as a single color document as a Pantone will be one type of ink. Keep in mind, unless you have calibrated your monitor AND install an accurate profile on the office printer for proofing, you will not get an accurate depiction of what the print vendors proof will look like. Ideally the physical Pantone swatch book is your go to reference for these colors. You can purchase them and or some vendors may provide them if you do enough business with them. Avoid sending RGB documents to print vendors if possible because they will be converting the document. There is no such thing as an rgb printer. Everything is printed in some form of CMYK/spot colors. As the print vendor for a proof so you know what you are getting.

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