Design: Converting RGB/Hex to Pantone

A question recently came up among my Twitter contacts:

“Can anyone help me in turning RGB/Hex into pantone info?”

You may be required to convert a colour to a Pantone if you’ve designed a website or logo in RGB or Hexidecimal (HEX), but then get asked by the client to provide the logo or a design for a brochure using the website colours to send to a professional printer. They may use terms such as 2-colour, 4-colour, and ‘spot’ colours — I don’t want to detour into a long explanation about colour printing, so you can read more about CMYK, Pantone, spot colours, etc at Business Cards on the Web.

You won’t find an exact Pantone match for the colour that’s displayed on your screen in HEX or RGB, here’s a simplified explanation as to why (quoting from Business Cards on the Web):

“… the problem stems from the fact that we’re all using different monitors, at different resolutions and to accurately display the correct colour would entail the user in having a Pantone© colour-calibrated system. This is beyond the realms of the majority, hence the uncertainty when choosing an onscreen colour. PC’s and Mac’s (Apple) both use different colour tables to display onscreen colours (in RGB) which compounds the situation.”

Using Photoshop to convert hexidecimal to Pantone
Using Photoshop to convert hexidecimal to Pantone

This just means that you need to pick the best match to your RGB/HEX colour. This can be done using the colour palette (or colour window) in a program like Photoshop (PS). In PS, open your image, use the ‘ink drop’ tool to sample the colour you want to match to a Pantone, click on the colour in the foreground swatch (which will bring up the colour palette), you should see a button called ‘Custom’ or ‘Color Libraries’ and that will give you the closest Pantone colour match — it will also show a variety of alternatives to choose from.

If you don’t have a graphics design program with a Pantone swatch system, then there are several sites offering online conversion from RGB/HEX to Pantone (eg. www.netfront.fr) and Pantone to RGB, CMYK, and HEX, for example www.goffgrafix.com.

There are many factors to consider when designing in colour for the web and print, things like colour spaces (if in doubt, use sRGB), your monitor and its settings, which operating system you’re using (Windows or Mac), the material you’ll be printing on (white paper, plastic, cotton), etc, etc. I’ll attempt to address some of these issues in a future posting.