Printing is often a vital step of design projects, where colors are pivotal and can make or break your designs if you don’t get them right. The print phase also requires color systems different from RGB or HEX, and that’s where CMYK and Pantone come into play.
However, CMYK and Pantone have different use cases, and depending on your projects, you might need to convert CMYK color to Pantone to achieve the desired consistency and accuracy.
Today, we’ll dive into the two print-oriented formats, discuss conversion challenges, provide tools for changing CMYK to Pantone, and show you how to use them.
In this article
Basics of CMYK and Pantone
While both CMYK and Pantone are top choices for the printing stage of the design process, these two color systems are also different, each having various benefits.
On the one hand, the CMYK color system, which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (Black), uses a subtractive color model. Art starts as an all-white background in this color model, with each layered CMYK color subtracting brightness from the scene and darkening the paper.
That creates colorful results in print, portraying HEX and RGB colors from a computer on a printed surface as accurately as possible.
On the other hand, Pantone, also known as Pantone Matching System or PMS, is a proprietary color system comprising over 15,000 colors. These colors have unique identifiers, making Pantone incredibly effective and accurate when working with multiple printers for your design.
This system will consistently deliver the exact color each time, regardless of what company is printing your art, whereas CMYK might lead to slight variations as CMYK colors are mixed.
Challenges of Converting CMYK to Pantone
Due to the aforementioned differences, converting CMYK colors to Pantone also involves a few challenges, which most often include the following:
- Varying Color Gamuts – CMYK colors are mixed during the printing phase, and they have a smaller color gamut than Pantone, which also involves pre-mixed inks and a wide range of colors. Converting between the two formats can be problematic, though, as a few Pantone colors might be outside CMYK’s scope.
- Color System Differences – Differently operating color models, subjective perception, and limited Pantone gradation can lead to challenging conversions, especially when handling artwork with subtle color variations. Some colors won’t precisely convert due to Pantone colors being solid with low gradient detail compared to CMYK’s colors.
- Price Differences – While CMYK is a far better format for low-cost printing, Pantone might be necessary to create consistency and elevate your brand image, especially when collaborating with multiple printing companies. However, Pantone’s special inks and colors can also be much more expensive.
Such conversions are necessary despite the challenges, and understanding the differences in these two color systems can help you overcome the difficulties.
Best Tools for Converting CMYK to Pantone
Now that we know more about the two most widely used print color systems, we can dive into the best tools for handling conversions from CMYK to Pantone.
What better way to convert CMYK to Pantone colors than with Pantone Connect, a tool made by the same company behind the proprietary color system? This Pantone app can ensure color consistency and accuracy and is available as an Adobe or browser extension and a mobile app, providing effortless five-format conversions.
- You can effortlessly convert CMYK to Pantone colors and vice versa, but other formats are also supported;
- The tool seamlessly integrates with mobile apps, browsers, and Adobe products like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, allowing sharing and collaboration;
- It provides access to all Pantone colors, cards, and schemes.
The yearly Pantone Connect subscription is $89.99, while the monthly one costs $14.99.
Created with graphic designers, logo experts, and illustrators in mind, Adobe Illustrator is a premium tool for making digital art, branded images, web app graphics, and outstanding logos.
However, the app also involves excellent conversion features, letting users quickly convert their digital art from one color format to another without leaving the app. It also supports CMYK to Pantone conversions.
- The app’s Swatches Panel lets you add numerous color books, including Pantone;
- Multiple methods exist to convert CMYK to Pantone colors within the app;
- Adobe Creative Cloud integration makes it effortless to collaborate and share projects.
Adobe Illustrator’s annual subscription equals $22.99 per month.
As the name suggests, CMYKTool is all about the CMYK color system, allowing you to convert to and from CMYK into multiple other formats, including Pantone. It includes various graphic and web designer tools, but the free web-based app is also exclusively focused on CMYK.
- CMYKTool works with CMYK, RGB, HEX, RAL, NCS, LAB, HSL, and Pantone color modes;
- CMYK color wheel, color picker, generator, and image color extractor can be handy;
- The site can also change Pantone to CMYK, including both coated and uncoated colors, and provides a Pantone CMYK color guide.
You can use CMYKTool for free.
Despite the name, DNS Checker is an excellent alternative to Adobe and Pantone apps. Although it’s primarily a web-based app with numerous DNS, IP, developer, network, cyber security, and webmaster tools, DNS Check offers web and graphic designers a few converters. CMYK to Pantone converter is one of these designer tools, allowing for basic CMYK into Pantone conversions.
- The website includes numerous web developer and network expert tools, making it perfect for coders needing a quick color conversion;
- It can handle different CMYK color profiles and considers specific color gamuts to ensure accurate conversions;
- The Pantone color distance picker lets you target the closest Pantone to CMYK or look for more options.
DNS Checker is free to use.
Like Illustrator, this Adobe product doesn’t require an introduction. Since its release in 1990, Photoshop has achieved an immense reputation and quickly became a go-to tool for photographers, image-editing enthusiasts, and designers. Countless updates and features later, Photoshop is also the perfect weapon for converting colors, with CMYK into Pantone being one of the possible conversions.
- Photoshop supports multiple file formats and color mode conversions;
- The color picker tool works excellently with RGB, HEX, CMYK, Pantone, HSB, and LAB codes;
- It seamlessly integrates with Adobe’s Creative Cloud, improving collaboration and efficiency.
Adobe Photoshop costs $22.99 monthly if you get an annual subscription.
How to Convert CMYK to Pantone
Converting CMYK to Pantone colors with these five tools will be effortless, but the process depends on the tool/app.
If you opt for free web-based apps like CMYKTool or DNS Checker, you’ll find that conversions are incredibly straightforward, and you only need to input CMYK codes to get unique Pantone identifiers. But you must know the exact CMYK color codes, making the tools perfect for web designers.
On the other hand, graphic designers can benefit from using Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator or adding Pantone Connect extension to these apps, which gives you much more control over the conversion.
Here, CMYK to Pantone conversions are done through the Recolor Artwork, Advanced Recolor Options, and Pantone Color Codes in Swatch Library tools, with many YouTube tutorials guiding you.
Additional Tips for Better Results
While the five CMYK to Pantone converters above can help surpass printing challenges, other ways of improving your digital artwork’s colors and details exist. We’ve included a few tips to help you on this journey.
Use Additional Tools to Improve Colors
Although the tools above work wonders for converting CMYK to Pantone, other ways to improve your artwork’s colors and details also exist. Tools like Wondershare Repairit Online Photo Colorizer can work magic on your digital designs, significantly enhancing every aspect of your image.
While Online Photo Colorizer was primarily created to restore old pictures and colorize black-and-white photos, its AI engine can benefit images of all kinds. The tool’s various features also make it an excellent choice for improving and adjusting your image’s colors, and they include the following:
- Repairing old pictures, colorizing B&W photos, and retouching the image’s colors and details is a simple three-step process;
- It supports BMP, JPG, JPEG, PNG, and WEBP photo formats;
- Online Photo Colorizer uses an advanced AI algorithm to recognize the picture’s elements;
- It’s a web-based tool you can access on any device with a browser;
Try Wondershare Repairit Online Photo Colorizer for free, and enhance three photos up to 5MB. You can also get a $9.99 monthly subscription or a $48.99 yearly one for 300 images per month and up to 300MB for the online tool. The desktop Wondershare Repairit app removes number and picture size limitations and provides other file-type repair tools.
Adjust the CMYK Values for the Best Results
The differences between CMYK and Pantone color systems mean that precise conversions aren’t always possible. However, you can still achieve fantastic color detail by adjusting CMYK values in your artwork to get a closer Pantone color, regardless of your chosen conversion tool.
Think About the Future Use and Adjust
With CMYK being a cost-effective color system for print and Pantone providing exemplary consistency and color precision, even with multiple printing companies, deciding which to use can be challenging. You’ll need to consider your expectations for the digital artwork you’ve created.
Moreover, you’ll need to decide whether you’re after a cost-effective format like CMYK, which can later be turned into RAL for the painting phase, or a more consistent one like Pantone, which can help build your brand image by providing the ultimate color precision regardless of who’s printing.
While both CMYK and Pantone color systems are excellent for print, the differences between the two color modes create the need for color transformations, forcing graphic and web designers to convert CMYK to Pantone colors. Although challenging, such changes can also be beneficial in some instances.
Tools like Pantone Connect, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, CMYKTool, and DNS Checker can help you with this task, providing multiple conversion types and other beneficial features.
While web developers and designers can benefit from straightforward web apps, graphic designers are likely better off with complete graphical suite apps, which provide multiple conversion methods and more control.
Besides free and paid CMYK to Pantone converters, you can use additional advanced AI tools like Wondershare Repairit Online Photo Colorizer to touch up your artwork’s colors. Adjusting CMYK values and considering the future of your digital creations can also help your designs.