Converting Pantone Solid Coated swatches to process
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If you didn't know that you can???t directly convert a Pantone+ Solid Coated swatch to CMYK you???re not alone.

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When Prepress (or Premedia) was referred to as Desktop Publishing, converting a design that incorporated spot colors to CMYK only took a mouse click or two and you knew the CMYK values would print as expected. It???s just not that simple anymore. At one time there was only one generally accepted conversion of each Pantone color to CMYK and every ???Desktop Publishing??? application had those values built into its libraries. Most commercial printers also had RIP workflows that would change a spot color to process automatically using those same values.

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Today I have 3 Pantone Color Bridge books on my desk and each has a different CMYK build. Depending on who you talk to, the Pantone Color Bridge books are getting better and better. As a prepress professional my goal is to make print production as painless as possible for the rest of the production crew. Towards that end my ???Go To??? Bridge Book is the original. The ???Original??? converts all the Pantone colors using three inks or less. I like to think they did it that way because the creators knew it would be easiest keep a 3 color build consistent throughout a press run. A 3 color build is also more forgiving for those companies with older equipment.

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The next Color Bridge iteration changed up the CMYK values to get the process versions even closer to the solid ink. Many of those conversions remained 3 colors but 4 color builds started working there way into the mix. The newest iteration is largely four ink mixes. In fairness to its creators, CTP systems and closed loop color calibration have made it much easier to dial in a press. That being said, imagine how nice it would be to run 3 color builds with all that new technology (but I digress).

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Understandably, the software side also made a push to better emulate the Pantone Color Library on the screen. In order to accomplish this, today???s Pantone Solid Swatch Libraries use L.a.b. coordinates to render the colors. This is where the conversion from Spot Colors to CMYK builds becomes complicated. To understand the complex nature of how to correctly convert spot colors today, and how easily you can be led into doing it incorrectly, you have to go back to how they were converted over a decade ago.

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Pantone colors used to be rendered in all applications using the same CMYK values that were published in the original Pantone Color Bridge book. Nobody really cared what it looked like on the screen as long as it printed right. Converting from a solid ink to process was as simple as changing the swatch ???Color Type??? from Spot Color to Process Color in the swatch options. Or better yet, let the RIP do it. Everyone in prepress had a ???convert everything to CMYK??? workflow and a ???Keep Spot Colors??? workflow. Simple enough.

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The next major change in rendering Pantone colors on the desktop came when they switched to an RGB rendering which better displayed the colors. The good news is that even though they changed the rendering color space from CMYK to RGB, Bridge Color CMYK values were still coded into the swatch Libraries. Everyone was able to convert the Spot Color to Process using the same three mouse clicks. The only difference being you got the newer Color Bridge CMYK values. Unfortunately it???s not that simple any more.

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In an effort to fine tune the display of Pantone+ Solid Coated swatches, the library is now rendered using L.a.b. values. The new library is far more accurate on the screen which is just what a design professional needs, but it no longer includes the Color Bridge CMYK values which those of us in production need. The Color Bridge values are still there, you just need to know how to find them.??

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Assuming you go about converting your spots to process the same way almost everyone else does, here is why you are not getting the Color Bridge values.
When you change a swatch from ???Book Color??? to ???CMYK??? you are not converting the ink to process, you are just converting the way that color is rendered on the screen from L.a.b. (the Book Color???s color space) to CMYK. The software uses an algorithm to convert the L.a.b. color to what it thinks is the best combination of CMYK. It then renders the swatch on your screen using those values. After you convert the color mode to CMYK the ???Color Type??? pull down which used to be grayed out becomes active and this is where you are being misled.

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Following standard computer logic that dictates ???If its not grayed out it must be OK??? you use the pulldown to convert your spot color to process. Here is what just happened: You just converted your Pantone solid swatch using the CMYK conversion of the L.a.b. values and not the CMYK conversion of the Pantone color as prescribed by the Color Bridge library. Trust me, these two conversions have as much to do with each other as ???Hot Dogs??? and ???Warm Puppies???. (When you get to the end we have an exercise that will clearly illustrate the difference)

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Now that you understand the problem the solution is simple.

If you are building a file from scratch and you know it is going to print in process, load your swatches from the ???Pantone+ Color Bridge Coated??? Library and not the ???Pantone+ Solid Coated??? Library. In hind site, sounds like a no brainer. Well, to be fair, it???s only a no brainer provided 1) you are aware of the Bridge Coated library and 2) You understand why you can???t just convert a swatch from the Solid Coated library to process like you have been doing for the last 20 years.

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If you are converting a file that includes Solid Coated swatches to process you can do one of two things. Load in the appropriate swatches from the Color Bridge Coated library and merge them. Merging swatches can be tricky so there is a simpler way to make the conversion. Open the Bridge Coated swatches up and note the CMYK builds. Then open your Solid Swatch???s options. Change the Color Mode from Book Color to CMYK. Change the CMYK values to be the same as the Color Bridge values then convert the swatch Color Type from Spot Color to Process Color. It???s pretty simple stuff now that you know whats going on.

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Lets have some fun and prove the theory.

Load Pantone 3292 from the Pantone+ Solid Coated library. Then load Pantone 3292 from the Pantone+ Bridge Coated library. Open up your solid 3292 and change the color mode from L.a.b. to CMYK and take note of the build. Then convert the color type to process (this is how you might have done it before reading this blog). Now open our newly discovered Bridge Coated 3292 and note the CMYK build. Notice that your swatch is already a Process Color ???Color Type??? and will have the same CMYK values as the most recent Pantone Color Bridge book.

Pantone+ Solid CoatedPantone+ Solid Coated converted to CMYKPantone+ Color Bridge Coated

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Since a picture is worth a thousand words, create two boxes in your document. Fill one with the Pantone+ Solid Coated swatch you converted to process. Fill the other with the swatch you loaded from the Pantone+ Color Bridge Coated library. They look pretty much the same don???t they? Now go to the ???Separations Preview??? in the View Tab and compare the Individual inks.?? Just like Cyan is the enemy of all things Yellow, Magenta is the enemy of all things Green. All that magenta is going to cause this color turn brown on press.

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These two process versions of 3292 will never print the same on an offset press in a production environment. You would probably be ok within a digital printing process, but that is not what were are talking about here. To make matters worse, It might proof ???OK??? (which goes back to my reference to printing in a digital environment) but it won???t print as proofed. Cue another battle between Prepress and the Pressroom ???

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If you didn't know that you can???t directly convert a Pantone+ Solid Coated swatch to CMYK you???re not alone. I process roughly 50-60 files a week for area printers and at least half have spot colors converted to CMYK via the L.a.b. color space. In many cases I can go in there and fix the builds but I???m certain you would much rather distribute your files squared away.??

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Thanks for spending some time with me??????

Steve Hailson

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December 2016