How is that Pantone colors don’t have direct RGB counterparts?


I read recently that Photoshop had Pantone colors, but recently Adobe’s Pantone license expired, so images created using Pantone colors simply lost that part of the image.

I’m not an expert on color, but isn’t almost anything represented by RGB? Why aren’t those colors just … colors? With specific number values that are encoded? Can these colors not be understood through regular web hex codes?

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22 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments


Anonymous 0 Comments

Well, one, not everything can be represented by RGB. The RGB color gamut (the colors you can produce by mixing pure red, green, and blue) does not even [close]( to cover all possible colors. There are many colors, particularly the richer shades of teal, green, and greenish-blue, that can’t be displayed that way. More generally, **no finite set of primary colors can produce every chromaticity** (combination of hue, which is what ‘type’ of color it is, and saturation, which is how intensely colored). Such a finite set would produce some straight-sided polygon in the space of possible colors, which can’t represent the smoothly curved available space (and, in practice, such a set would also require maximally saturated colors, which real dyes and the like don’t produce).

For two, since different purposes use different mixes of pigments, the spaces each thing can cover vary. Your printer colors, for example, don’t align with the colors your monitor can produce, because printers are using subtractive primaries (which absorb light) rather than glowing colors in the monitor (which add light). One common color space for printers is CMYK (for **c**yan, **m**agenta, **y**ellow, and **k**ey [i.e., black, used to darken colors]), and you can [see]( that CMYK and sRGB have different available colors.

And for three, different monitors and other forms of display show things differently. If you want to be able to design a shirt on your computer, then reproduce it in fabric dyes, you need to understand the relationship between those two color systems.


Which brings us to pantone. Pantones don’t actually represent any specific mix of pigments, like RGB or CMYK. Instead, they represent an abstract idea of a color that can be consistently represented across different methods of displaying one. Each pantone has *representations* in RGB or CMYK or whatever else, provided that the color it represents is inside their gamuts, but the pantone is independent of those specific representations.

It’s kind of like the idea of the number two existing separately from the symbol 2 (used to write it in Arabic numerals) or the symbol 二 (the Chinese character for this number), or tally marks like ||, or the spelling t-w-o. These are all representations, appropriate to specific situations, of the abstract idea of the number two.

In practice, using pantones lets you design “in pantone”, and then implement that design across a wide range of possible materials and means of producing color. Each pantone can be handled consistently, and then implemented in whatever means of producing color support that pantone in their gamuts, so that purple on your screen and purple on a printed page and purple on a shirt all look exactly the same.


EDIT: Hello, /r/all. Before you feel super smart and go “um a 5 year old wouldn’t understand that” you should read the sidebar:

> LI5 means friendly, simplified and layperson-accessible explanations – not responses aimed at literal five-year-olds.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Pantone colors are one level removed from the RGB representation of those colors which allows the application to adjust the RGB values to best represent the correct shade to compensate for differences in specific computer monitors. To get the most accurate representations the monitor will need to be calibrated using a feedback loop (a camera) that feeds back the color produced for a specific input value to get the closest representable version of each Pantone color.

When fully calibrated a print that uses Pantone should look as nearly as possible like a faithful copy of the image as presented in Photoshop. Colors that are represented in RGB will have some reciprocity errors in the translation to CMYK (or whatever standard the chosen printer uses)

Anonymous 0 Comments

Color consistency on most systems is barely a priority. Home screens and printers vary *wildly*

RGB is only for illuminated displays and even that has some pretty wild variations as most screens are not calibrated and don’t even try for perfect color consistency. Your average LED/LCD screen is TFT and color accuracy isn’t even a priority. Higher end screens are IPS which is at least consistent with colors across itself, you can then get ones that are calibrated to get a consistent view of the colors between computer screens

Pantone isn’t for display colors, its for print colors. Most printers are CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) but again there are calibration differences. For general use the CMYK values are close enough. If you want to make 50,000,000 of something at 8 different vendors and have them all look the same you’d need to have some way to specify colors and calibrations beyond just CMYK because that doesn’t adjust for if printer A is inherently a bit Cyan heavy in its prints

That’s where Pantone comes in. If you specify [Pantone Red 032]( and everyone has a Pantone calibrated printer and their booklet of reference swatches then all of them will come out looking *exactly* the same despite using different equipment

Anonymous 0 Comments

The idea of pantone is there is indeed a representation of that color in various color spaces, there is definitely a RGB value used to represent that pantone color. The idea of a pantone _license_ is that people need to pay to say something is a pantone color.

I do not know this for a fact, it is only speculation — but if the license ran out, Photoshop would probably be violating some intellectual property law by converting that pantone color to it’s representation in RGB on a screen.

Anonymous 0 Comments

RGB doesn’t translate well to print media because print inks are ether Standard CMYK or Pantone. Commercial printer inks can reproduce a range of colors which can’t be 100% reproduced with RGB because RGB is more restricted. Look up “color spaces”.

I did a logo in Pantone coated ink and the client slashed the budget which required pivoting to standard CMYK inks. The brick red I chose came out as cherry red because those two reds don’t translate. The deep teal I picked came out as navy. This is the challenge of dealing with incompatible color spaces.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Fun fact: in the biz NTSC (US television, 24 fps, as opposed to PAL) is referred to as “Never The Same Color”. It’s a nightmare

Anonymous 0 Comments

Pantones are for print, they are specific mixed ink that creates a standard color that can be replicated on printed materials. Think the red in Coca Cola, or the blue from Tiffany. Those logos look the same when printed on any material, because a Pantone can be matched pretty much exactly. A Pantone is solid, where as CMYK is a mix of dots used to create continuous tone in print (if you look through a loop you can see the difference). Pantone is also a business, and has now hopped on the subscription train.

Anonymous 0 Comments

So the science of color is actually pretty weird. It doesn’t behave as simply as you think.

Color behaves differently depending on how it’s made. For instance, mixing all the paint (pigment, subtractive) together will make black, but mixing all the light together (light, additive) will make white. Pantone deals with pigments, and RGB deals with light. They’re so different that there some colors are only available in light (RGB) that don’t exist in pigments (Pantone).

(Without getting too into it, that’s actually why cartoons nowadays are so much more vibrant and brighter. Everything is now made with RGB tools for RGB screens, and we skip the pigment stage from when things were painted on paper.)

Think of it like asking why there isn’t a direct conversion between gallons and pounds. They both seem to measure the same thing at a glance, but they’re actually different.

Anonymous 0 Comments

You know of Red, Green, Blue.
But really there is also Hue, Saturation, Chroma.
That makes a crazy huge number of more colours from what is seemingly an infinite rainbow.