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How to Convert CMYK to Pantone

What’s the most reliable way to convert Pantone to CMYK or CMYK to Pantone?

By Kathy Scott, Online Editor

At least once in a graphic designer’s career that question has been spoken aloud, or more likely, created a slight panic within – “How do I convert Pantone to CMYK or, alternatively, convert CMYK to Pantone?” Your client counts on you to insure proper color branding based on company style guides. Unfortunately, converting CMYK to Pantone is not an exact science, but there are products that can make Pantone CMYK conversion manageable.

Color is far more than shade or even color space. A first step to conversion is a Pantone color chart for CMYK. Why is it so important?  For many high profile companies, color is a brand. A High Court in Great Britain ruled this year that Pantone 2685C, Cadbury’s well-known purple, can be exclusive to the company’s Daily Milk candy bar packaging, icing out their competition. In the U.S., Christian Louboutin sued for the right to own Pantone No 18-1663 TP, a color that graces the soles of all of the designer’s shoes. The court agreed.

With this in mind, it is vital that a designer ensure absolute accuracy in color reproduction.

Pantone CMYK Conversion

So what are your CMYK to Pantone converter options? The best starting point would be a CMYK to Pantone chart (or a Pantone to CMYK conversion chart). These should be used as an initial reference since it is difficult to make an exact color match visually.

Once visually matched, Pantone has created several options for Pantone CMYK conversion success.

Coated or Uncoated

Scenario: You’ve sent a file to the printer noting a PMS color or CMYK conversion match for corporate stationery. When the proof comes back, the color is all wrong, but the printer assures you the PMS color is as requested. Indeed, they are correct. What went wrong? Most of you already know the answer to this question, but I’ll answer it for those few that may not. PMS colors vary based on the printing surface. And, depending on the color, a sharp visual distinction is noticeable. The Pantone Plus Series Formula Guide Solid Coated & Uncoated is a first step to Pantone CMYK conversion, providing a complete reference guide with 1,761 Pantone solid color choices, including 84 new colors of the Pantone Matching System. The guide is arranged chromatically, showing the results of coated and uncoated stocks for each color as well as a lighting indicator tool to insure lighting conditions are suitable for color selection and matching.

As a bonus, when you purchase the Pantone Plus Series Formula Guide, you will receive the Pantone Color Manager Software to download for free upon registration.

The Essential Color Bridge

The go-to tool for professional designers when it comes to color matching is the Pantone Plus Series Essentials with Formula Guide and Color Bridge Supplements. What sets it apart are Color Bridge Guides that include side-by-side comparisons of a Pantone color its CMYK conversion with the CMYK values needed to achieve the similar Pantone color. The Color Bridge Guides also provide sRGB and HTML values for converting Pantone colors.

This six guide set includes the Pantone Plus Series Solid and Process Color Guides and three new color supplements; the Solid Color Formula Guides (coated and uncoated), which offer accurate solid color specifying and matching; and the Color Bridge Guides (coated and uncoated).

This bundle is our most popular. It features 1,761 Pantone solid color choices and 2,868 CMYK color choices with screen tint percentages.

Design Firm Essentials

The Pantone Plus Series Reference Library with Formula Guide, Color Bridge & Chips Supplements is the complete source for color choices for design firms, corporate communications’ design departments and agencies. This 14-piece set includes the Plus Series Solid Color Formula Guides (coated and uncoated), the Formula Guide Supplement (coated and uncoated), and the Color Bridge Guides (coated and uncoated).

Additionally, the Pantone Plus Series Reference Library also includes the new Premium Metallics Guide with 300 new colors; the Pastels & Neons Guide with 154 pastel and 56 neon colors and the Metallic Formula Guide, which includes 301 metallic colors.

A must-have for design firms! Also included are five Chip guides – Solid Chips and the Solid Chips Supplement (coated and uncoated), Pastels & Neons Chips (coated and uncoated), Metallic and Premium Metallic Chips, easy to tear out and attach to artwork for accurate color matching. has negotiated the lowest prices for Pantone products making acquisition easy and affordable. Click Here to browse our complete inventory and product bundle options.



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Kathy Scott is Online Editor for, where she actively seeks out new, unusual and innovative design stories to share with the active design community. She regularly contributes to the HOW Design Blog and Editor’s Picks.