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If I send digital samples of each Pantone color (via its corresponding RGB hex code) to my local photo lab (Wal-Mart), will the color print be close to the true Pantone color? Short of actual Pantone samples, this seems about as close as I can get to the real Pantone color.
If I send digital samples of each Pantone color (via its corresponding RGB hex code) to my local photo lab (Wal-Mart), will the color print be close to the true Pantone color?
Unfortunately, the answer is, "it depends." Pantone was created to match colors outside the CMYK color gamut. That is, there are certain colors that cannot be printed using cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, so special inks are mixed with whites and blacks to obtain those colors. For example, a pantone red might contain pigments made of different minerals than magenta or yellow to obtain a certain shade of red.
The same is true across all media. RGB, photographic prints, CMYK, and Pantone all have their own color gamuts. The best choice is to choose a color that will match across all color gamuts. If you can find one that matches all gamuts, the answer would be yes.
The way you would do this is not by assessing what you see on your monitor - you would look at the digital values of the color in RGB/CMYK, making sure there's no gamut warnings, designated by the triangle with an exclamation point.
I'm not sure how you'd reverse-engineer this process to apply to photographic prints, my experience goes in the opposite direction - reading a color value from a print and matching it to pantone, CMYK, or RGB values by the numbers.
Short of actual Pantone samples, this seems about as close as I can get to the real Pantone color.
I am very close from retiring from the print industry after almost 20 years. I actually built the largest and most popular Pantone Color Conversion tool which was squashed by a C&D from Pantone.
When it comes to color, few things are as exact as the Pantone Formula Guides. Trying to get a pressman to match 186 Red on a rainy day can be challenging. ;)
You will always need an actual Pantone Formula Guide to determine "true color". You may find that your local FedEx/Kinkos may have the output devices to print 6 colors instead of 4. In that instance, you will most likely get colors that are "close" to the Pantone color. Traditional CMYK is only capable of producing a limited number of colors. Certain Pantone colors do not convert well to CMYK, in fact, some are quite ugly and need adjustment.
Whatever you do, don't rely on anything other than the actual Pantone Formula Guide for color comparison if it is that important. ;)