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Adobe Illustrator: Convert CMYK Inks to Pantone

by Barb Binder, Adobe Certified Instructor on Illustrator

Updated for CC 2015 on May 4, 2016

When life gives you colors defined using CMYK process colors and you need Pantone spot colors, what’s a gal to do? Quickly and easily convert your inks to Pantone using the Recolor artwork dialog box, that’s what! Here’s how:

  1. Select the object(s) containing the process color(s). In this example, the butterfly is selected and the Swatches panel is displaying the default CMYK swatches.
    Adobe Illustrator CC 2014: Select the artwork containing the CMYK colors.
  2. Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork. Click to open the Limits the color group to colors in a swatch library menu. (Note: this screen shot is from Adobe Illustrator CC 2015. The menu will be in same general vicinity in earlier versions that offer the option to recolor the artwork, but is so non-conspicuous that you may have to hunt for it.)Adobe Illustrator CC 2014: Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork
  3. Choose your Pantone Color book and click on OK.
    Adobe Illustrator CC 2014: Choose your Pantone color book.
  4. The new Pantone swatches generated from the selected artwork are assigned to the artwork, and appear in the Swatches panel.
    Adobe Illustrator CC 2014: The new Pantone swatches appear in the Swatches panel.
  5. Optionally, organize them into a Color Group using the folder icon from the bottom right of the Swatches panel.
    Adobe Illustrator CC 2014: Organize them into a Color Group in the Swatches panel.

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37 thoughts on “Adobe Illustrator: Convert CMYK Inks to Pantone

  1. I finished up a t-shirt design and the printers artist asked me to make sure all the colors were PMS. I thought… Man, he should have told me ahead of time. Thanks tons for this article. After 15 minutes of flipping through my PMS book I took to the interweb. BAM, you nailed it. Well explained and and easy to follow steps.
    Thanks again!!
    PS. I have ALWAYS wondered what was behind that Edit Colors menu. HA!

    1. The same exact thing just happened to me. So glad I stumbled upon this. Thanks Barb Binder! You saved me a lot of time today 😉

  2. very helpful thank you! I’ve used that before, just didn’t realize I could use it to color match, so thanks again!

  3. Thank you so endlessly much for this!
    Saved me so much time and effort.
    Lot’s of good karma your way!

  4. This helped me so much with a clients design work where ALL the colours needed to be converted to Pantone. Thank you so much!!

  5. my color was not exactly like the one they selected to replace it, but hey, this trick is gold.
    thanks for sharing!!! 🙂

  6. OMG!
    I’ve been trying to figure out how to use this thing for years.
    I work in prepress and often have to convert four color art to spot color, and I’d be embarrassed to show you my methods.
    I swear I read a jillion other tutorials, but this is the first one that skipped all the fluff and went straight to the meat of the issue.
    Thank you so very, very, very much!

  7. Fantastic!!! I’ve longed for this function for years and years!
    Thank you very much for an excellent, easy-to-understand tutorial!

  8. This little trick just saved me SO MUCH TIME. I’m actually a little mad I’ve not bothered to look it up before now. At 52 with 20+ years working in AI, it’s awful to think of all this wasted time! THANK YOU.