Is Pantone becoming antiquated?

This may be a bit of a rant but maybe I am missing something.

The more I dive into Pantone color matching the more I am starting to think it’s all worthless. I have been a graphic designer for many years and over the years I have noticed there are inconsistencies with exact Pantone colors.

We had a printing company print 100,000 stickers and even between this batch there were slight changes of hue. I assume because the printer was either getting hot or ink was getting low in area so it was being compensated.

We also sent a Pantone color (374U) to two different printing companies and even these came back slightly different.

So my question is: if Pantone is supposed to be printed the same color no matter who prints it what is the point of Pantone since this is obviously not true.

With all the variables to color (pixels in monitor, tone mapping curve, how the paint mixer is physically mixing paint, CMYK conversion) it seems impossible to always have a consistent color because every print company has different printers and processes.

What am I missing?

EDIT: Thank you to everyone for all of the wonderful answers I learned so much (I wish I could mark them all as correct.)


Other answers have described in detail why you can’t expect 100% color likeness when printing with Pantone inks (mainly because they are not colors but inks).

My guess is that it leaves you with the question: “If printing with Pantone inks have these additional risks of slight shifts in color, why even bother using them?”. As you stated yourself in a comment: “[…] Pantone seems to only complicate and slow down the process.”. Obviously if they only made things worse, there wouldn’t be a place for them.

Advantages of Pantone over CMYK

The four CMYK inks have proven to be the best compromise we can find when it comes to all-round color reproduction of graphics and images. They are affordable and possible to produce in vast amounts.

Halftone screening of the CMY inks enables us to mix a pretty wide array of hues and the black ink enables us to give the colors darkness and depth and to print (somewhat) black text. When printing digitally, which is the most cost efficient for smaller runs, CMYK (or extended variations like CcYyMmK) is often (if not always) the only choice.

The greatest advantage of CMYK printing is that it has been standardized. Color management enables us to get a pretty precise preview of what our prints will look like.

But a standardized, all-round, lowest common denominator system also comes with some shortcomings and printing with Pantone colors has a few advantages.


The world contains a myriad of physical pigments and there are many colors which are possible to print and paint on paper which are not possible to achieve mixing the CMYK inks. Two notorious examples are orange and blue. Here shown converted to Coated FOGRA39:

Reflection of light

Pantone inks can have other physical properties like neon inks which almost seem to glow and metallic inks which glitters and changes color depending on the viewing angle.

These effects can’t be reproduced with CMYK and can’t even be shown on a computer monitor, so I can’t show any examples here.


Pantone inks can of course, like CMYK, be printed at tints with halftone screening and mixed with other Pantone colors, but in their pure 100% tint they enable us to get totally clean and solid areas with any color. In CMYK we can only get that in the four inks.

Consider this preview I made of the difference between how a brown Pantone color and the equivalent CMYK color looks on print:

The CMYK version looks like a brown circle, but the Pantone version is a brown circle. Big difference in my opinion.

Mixed inks will always look slightly out of focus. Partly because of registration issues, but also simply because of the fact that they all consists of halftone dots. With a spot color you can print thin lines and tiny text in any color you want at 100% tint. Doing that with mixed inks is not always advisable.


Not being the standard, printing with Pantone inks can often be more expensive than ordinary CMYK print. If the run is big enough and you limit yourself to one or two pantone inks though, it can be more cost efficient in some cases.

Pantone is not a competitor to CMYK

You shouldn’t regard Pantone and CMYK as two equals to choose between. Each have their own right. CMYK printing is by far the most common and advisable to use for most common jobs.

I too have many of those “deadline was yesterday”-clients who are more interested in the effect of the print than the print itself. Their jobs should just be done as standard as possible, no doubt about it.

But I also have another class of clients, which might even be a growing segment, who are interested in the print and for whom the print and the printing process can be seen as sort of an experience. Like artists, photographers, small publishers, companies who make luxury goods etc. Using Pantone colors can provide them with that something “special” which will make their product pop in comparison to standard products.

Source : Link , Question Author : icYou520 , Answer Author : Wolff

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