PMS to CMYK; Controlling Color Shift

Pantone Matching System (PMS) is a popular color matching system used by the printing industry to print spot colors. Most applications that support color printing allow you to specify colors by indicating the Pantone name or number. This assures that you get the right color when the file is printed, even though the color may not look right when displayed on your monitor. PMS works well for spot colors but not for process colors, which are generally specified using the CMYK color model.

In order for a job to print, it must be converted to CMYK. It is important to do this conversion on your end as a client so you can make subjective color adjustments that we would be unable to do in the case of a colorshift.

PMS to CMYKOften times, there is a dramatic color shift when converting from Pantone spot colors to CMYK. This is because spot colors are made of only one custom color and are very expensive. Using the process printing method, we are able to make thousands of colors from just four inks, but some colors fall outside the range of what can be simulated.

Because of CMYK’s limited color gamut, the simulation of any particular Pantone ink will sometimes not be an accurate conversion. A close up look will show that CMYK’s color gamut has only four inks to simulate a special Pantone color using cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks only. At magnified view, these four inks overlap each other in what is called “half tone dots” gives the human eye a visual of a particular color.

Unfortunately we cannot offer spot color matching and it is your responsibility to build your file with process color formulas that you are satisfied with. This is most easily accomplished, in our opinion, by purchasing a Pantone colormatch system; currently called “Pantone Color Bridge” swatchbook. This is available on Pantone’s website ( and has side-by-side comparisons of spot colors and their process conversions.

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