I'm originally industrial designer. Recently I have been designing a whole new branding for a start-up I'm working with, and obviously there is a lot I need to figure out still. Everything was going great so far, but as it happened to me before, I am now struggling with the color referencing... So I decided it was time to come here ask for real advices about the best way(s) to proceed.

For most of my previous projects, I usually start from a Pantone Solid reference (C or U) I apply on the product, and then I find the RGB/CMYK/HEX value for any work on my screen (Branding, Packaging Visual...)

This time, I started my effort from creating the new brand identity directly on my screen (Apple Macbook Retina 2014 with no specific color calibration...sorry) and I ended up with an RGB color that everybody likes: R170,G194,B216 (HEX: AAC2D8).

The main use of this color would be digital, App and website. Then I assumed I could try to, first, match on screen my color with a Pantone reference; and then double checking it with a Pantone book and hopefully be happy enough with it to use if for any future physical reference, Printing (Business Card, Packaging...) but also for the physical product.

So I went online and started looking for RGB to Pantone converter, which gave me few online converters, but eventually I discovered the "Recolor Artwork" feature on illustrator. In order to properly do everything I even set up the Pantone Color Manager and got the latest Pantone Book Libraries for illustrator.

-----But here are the couple of issues I have now:-----

• I can't find any Pantone Solid reference (either C or U) matching -on screen- my color (HEX: AAC2D8), like not at all...

• By using the "Recolor Artwork" illustrator feature I eventually found the Pantone CMYK Coated 113-9C which fairly matched my color...but after updating the Pantone Library for the CMYK V2, now the same reference looks completely different...grrr thanks Pantone...

• Last chance, I tried finding a color in my Pantone Solid Coated book that I would like and find close enough from my original color intention... When I compared my selection on screen, my best picks eventually are 543C and 644C, but they're still pretty far from my original digital color...

-----So few question for you, hopefully someone can help:-----

  1. I tried to read as much as I can about this subject, and I read a lot about the solution to use Color Bridge for exactly what I am doing, unfortunately, I don't have the books in hand, and on my screen the "theoretical" matches are the worst out of all my work so far...

  2. First thing first, am I doing everything completely wrong. Any advices about a better way to proceed in general? I definitely understand that at the end everything is pretty subjective from Screen to Physical, but I would like to find at least a pretty close match.

  3. Is is ok to use a Pantone CMYK reference as color reference for printing or painting matching? On one of my previous project, working on packaging, I remember the manufacturer asking for a PMS reference...

  4. Also, once (if) I find a match, what am I supposed to do with it? Should I switch all my digital color to that Pantone reference values? Or, and it seems like an extreme and unproper solution, but I started to think that I should use files with my RGB color for anything digital, and create other files/samples using a Pantone reference I will pick out of any book for anything meant to be on real physical media. Eyeballing the matching, from my screen to the book(s).

I really hope someone can help me here. Please feel free to answer only 1 or 2 questions if you have any great input for me.

Thank you very much!


Screen Matching Above is how I look at it now in order to make a decision.

As you can see, whatever looks great to my eyes on the Pantone Solid Coated book, doesn't really match on illustrator.

Then you can also see that the previous CMYK Coated P113-9C was a great match, but the new Pantone updated reference is veryyyy different so I guess I can't use it anymore... But as you see, the CMYK Coated P111-1C is not too bad, that's why I was wondering if I can use CMYK Pantone reference for physical uses?

At the end of the day, I do understand that I can pick whatever RGB I want for screen, because eventually I have no control on how it will look like on everybody's screen.

I also understand, I can easily convert it to CMYK values then, since I will have to double check any printing job anyway. And again I won't have much control on a bad printer/manufacturer. But it seemed I understood that having a Pantone Reference can sometimes helps with color matching on print.

But eventually I will need a Pantone Reference anyway in order to have physical sample to show to any manufacturer trying to match a paint or a plastic color...

So I am personally ok with keep my RGB color for digital (website and App) and then select a Pantone Reference from a book with my eyes, for anything physical. But for obvious reason it gets tricky when you need to create a file for printing. And it can get very confusing to have in my final design guideline (PDF on screen) a RGB color and a Pantone Reference, supposedly matching, actually looking pretty different...

What do you think?

1 Answer 1


Put simply, some RGB (RE:HEX) colors just can not be reproduced via CMYK.

Your only option is to find something visually as close as you can. That often means ignoring the RGB?Hex numbers entirely and using your eyeballs to find a color, not software. The optimum method to do this is to look at physical Pantone books, not a screen. Because everything on any screen is RGB or at least rendered as RGB.

It's not that you seem to be doing anything "wrong", it's more than you seem to want to find a screen-only method to determine CMYK colors accurately on an (uncalibrated?) monitor. You seem to be looking for precision without having the proper tools for precision.

  • Thanks for answering Metis. I edited my post to give you more details which could help. Unfortunately the color needs to be use on both digital and physical media, that's why the match is so important. Otherwise I would just pick a Pantone reference from a Book.
    – CLM
    Jul 18, 2017 at 23:27
  • 1
    My point was you often have to "...just pick a Pantone reference from a Book" If the RGB color is out of the CMYK gamut. Software conversions are guesses just like your choice would be. I don't understand the issue regarding "digital vs physical". I can set 651C t print on physical pieces... and set AAC208 for digital items. You are not going to achieve a single file capable of both. You'll need web files and print files, which is very common.
    – Scott
    Jul 19, 2017 at 0:28

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