Determining the Pantone code that matches a hex color value can be done in a few simple steps. As a graphic designer or web developer, you may need to match a specific Pantone coated or uncoated swatch to ensure color accuracy across different mediums. While the Pantone Matching System (PMS) uses physical swatch books as the reference standard, finding the closest equivalent PMS color for a hex code can be helpful for coordinating projects across print and digital.
What is a Pantone Color?
Pantone is a proprietary color matching system that is used primarily in the design, printing, textile, and manufacturing industries. The Pantone Matching System allows designers and manufacturers to communicate consistent color throughout the production process, ensuring that the final printed or manufactured product matches the original intended design.
Pantone colors are specified using an alphanumeric code such as PMS 185 C or PMS 185 U. The letters “PMS” stand for Pantone Matching System, while the numbers identify the specific pigment formulation that produces the color. The letter “C” indicates a color from the Coated swatch book, meant for glossy paper stock. The letter “U” indicates an Uncoated swatch book color intended for matte or uncoated paper.
Pantone swatch books contain hundreds of precisely mixed pigments, going far beyond the limited colors available with CMYK process printing. By specifying PMS colors, designers can maintain much greater color accuracy for logos, branding, packaging, and other critical graphic elements.
What is a Hex Color?
In web design and digital applications, colors are often specified using hexadecimal code, commonly referred to as hex code. This is a six-digit string preceded by a hash (#) symbol, such as #185C77. Hex values represent the specific mixture of red, green, and blue (RGB) that produces the given color.
Each pair of digits in a hex code indicates the intensity of one of the component colors. Values range from 00 (none of that color) to FF (full intensity), allowing for 16,777,216 possible color combinations.
For example, #185C77 breaks down to:
- 18 (24% red)
- 5C (36% green)
- 77 (46% blue)
When displayed by a computer monitor or rendered in a digital design application, mixing these levels of red, green and blue produces the exact shade of color represented by that hex value.
Steps to Convert Hex to Pantone
If you need to match a hex color to the closest equivalent in the Pantone Matching System, you can follow these basic steps:
- Identify the hex color code you want to convert, such as #F39DA6.
- Use a tool like the Pantone Color Finder to lookup the closest corresponding PMS swatch. This will likely give you multiple suggestions for coated and uncoated colors.
- Select the appropriate PMS swatch (coated or uncoated) based on your intended use – printing on glossy vs. matte material.
- Use the Pantone color code provided, such as PMS 218 C, when specifying colors for your project.
- Obtain the official Pantone swatch book to view the physical color for the selected PMS code.
There are a number of free online tools and apps that can convert between hex codes and Pantone colors. The Pantone Color Finder is the official lookup tool available on the Pantone website (pantone.com). Adobe Color CC also provides hex to Pantone conversion along with many other colorful features.
Pantone Color Finder Tool
The Pantone Color Finder is easy and straightforward to use. Simply enter your target hex code and it will display the closest corresponding Pantone colors from the coated and uncoated libraries.
For example, entering the hex code #F39DA6 returns the following suggestions:
|Hex Code||PMS Coated||PMS Uncoated|
|#F39DA6||PMS 218 C||PMS 219 U|
You can then click on either of the Pantone codes to view details about that specific color. This includes RGB and CMYK conversion values along with the ability to preview the color as text or background.
Keep in mind that the Pantone Color Finder provides only approximations of the closest matching Pantone colors. For a truly accurate match, you need to obtain the official Pantone swatch books and manually compare. The Color Finder is best used as a starting point when searching for corresponding Pantone colors.
Adobe Color CC Tool
Formerly known as Adobe Kuler, Color CC is a free tool from Adobe that allows you to experiment with color palettes and harmonies. It also includes the ability to convert between Pantone, RGB, and hex color values.
To find the closest Pantone match for a hex code in Adobe Color CC:
- Go to color.adobe.com
- Click on the “Convert” tab
- Enter your hex code in the appropriate field
- Adobe Color will show the closest matching Pantone swatches along with CMYK and RGB alternatives
As with the Pantone Color Finder, you can click on any of the Pantone swatches to see detailed information and previews for that color. The CC tool provides both coated and uncoated Pantone suggestions based on your original hex input.
In addition to simple conversions, Adobe Color CC includes tools to create color palettes, explore combinations, and extract themes from photos. You can create an Adobe account to save and share your color libraries across projects and with team members.
Online Conversion Tools
In addition to the Pantone and Adobe options, there are many free websites and apps that offer hex to Pantone conversion:
- EasyRGB – Supports multiple color models including RGB, CMYK, and Pantone. Can convert both ways between hex and PMS.
- ColorHexa – Database of over 5000 brands and their official colors. Convert between hex, RGB, CMYK, and Pantone codes.
- Colorizer – Simple tool to convert between Pantone, CMYK, RGB, LAB, and hex color values.
- Hex Color Codes – Lists equivalent Pantone colors along with each hex code in its directory.
Most online converters work the same basic way. Simply enter your starting hex color and they will provide close matching Pantone swatches along with RGB/CMYK values. Some tools give you more options such as selecting the color library (coated vs. uncoated) or specifying a target CMYK build.
While super handy for quick conversions, these tools should not be relied on for perfectly accurate Pantone to hex matches. Minor variations and approximations are common. Always verify final color selections using official Pantone swatches.
Design Software Built-in Converters
Many design programs also include tools or plugins for converting between color models including Pantone, RGB, and hex codes:
- Adobe Creative Suite – Convert between Pantone, CMYK, RGB and hex in Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign.
- CorelDraw – Supports spot color matching including Pantone libraries.
- Affinity Designer – Contains integrated Pantone selection and conversion.
The advantage of using software you already own is convenience and seeing colors rendered accurately on your own monitor. But the number of Pantone swatches available and accuracy of conversions can vary.
Get Official Pantone Swatch Books
For ultimate color precision, you can’t beat the original Pantone swatch books. The Pantone Matching System is the graphic arts industry standard when it comes to spot color reproduction. While digital conversions can provide close approximations, they are not 100% accurate matches for true Pantone colors.
Pantone swatch books are available in a few different formats:
- Coated – Glossy paper for emulating printing on coated stock
- Uncoated – Matte paper for uncoated stock
- Pastels and Neons – Expanded bright and pale shades
- Metallics – Eye-catching metallic pigments
- Premium Metallics – Intense foil, glitter, pearlescent colors
For general use, the Coated and Uncoated swatch books provide the most comprehensive selection of over 2300 colors each. Books cost around $180 individually or can be purchased bundled together at a discount.
To precisely match a Pantone color, you look up the code in the appropriate swatch book then visually compare colors. This ensures you get an authentic match accounting for factors like paper stock, gloss finish, opacity, and individual perception.
Pantone also offers fan guide color selectors, specialized swatches for the textile industry, plastic chips and threads for product design, and digital color libraries for software and web use.
Tips for Accurate Pantone to Hex Conversion
When trying to match a Pantone color code to its hex equivalent, keep these tips in mind:
- Use the official Pantone Color Bridge swatch books for accurate starting colors
- Lighting conditions influence perceived color, work in consistent lighting
- Compare matte swatches to RGB on a monitor, glossy ones to printed samples
- View digital colors on multiple devices to account for monitor variations
- Allow for slight differences – digital cannot perfectly match physical colors
- Consider getting a calibrated monitor and color checker passport for increased precision
Start with high quality reference swatches, understand the limitations of digital conversions, and double check your selections. With a careful process, you can achieve excellent results translating Pantone spot colors into matching hex codes for digital applications.
Achieving Consistent Color Across Platforms
When working across print and digital media, consistent color representation is important but also challenging. The Pantone Matching System makes it possible to specify fixed spot colors for printed materials. But reproducing those same colors accurately on websites, mobile apps, and monitors can be difficult due to inherent differences between technologies.
Here are some tips for managing colors across platforms:
- Use hex codes as a bridge – convert Pantone to closest hex, then to RGB for digital
- Keep spot colors limited to primary branding colors
- Avoid pure RGB colors for print – instead use CMYK builds
- Proof digital mockups with Pantone tints to visualize differences
- Share Pantone to RGB conversions across teams and vendors
- Call out critical colors separately from style guides or themes
Establishing a structured process with shared guidelines and conversions will help align palettes. Some acceptable variance will likely still occur, but you can minimize obvious shifts in colors between materials. With planning and communication, your brand colors can maintain reasonably consistent appearance across print and digital formats.
Converting between the Pantone Matching System and digital hex colors is straightforward with the right tools. Online databases can provide close Pantone approximations for hex values. For more precision, use proprietary converters from Pantone and Adobe along with physical swatch books. Account for limitations in digital accuracy and allow for some acceptable variance across media. Establish clear policies for converting colors that support consistency while understanding that perfect matches are often unattainable. With the right knowledge and practices, you can effectively translate colors between Pantone and hex for both print and digital projects.