Pantone Colors and Fabric Shopping

Have you ever bought fabric online, only to be disappointed by its actual color when it showed up on your doorstep? Representing fabric color accurately online is notoriously difficult due to a number of factors, including monitor calibration. But even if you calibrate perfectly, you still have to trust that the fabric was scanned in/photographed properly and color-corrected. Yeah, I was lost back at monitor calibration.

pantone shopping color guide

The last time I went to my machine quilter, Deana and I had a discussion about Pantone colors and the textile world. The Pantone Matching Systemis the definitive international reference for selecting, specifying, matching and controlling ink colors.” Deana buys a lot of thread and fabric online and said her life would be a whole lot easier if wholesalers and retailers mentioned the closest Pantone color match. We also both talked about how we’d love to have some sort of fashion+home cotton swatch set, but these products range from $495 to $4,200! Colors look different on fabric than they do on paper, hence the different substrates.

Later Deana sent me this link, which mentions that Gorgeous Fabrics and Emma One Sock specify the Pantone color(s) of the fabrics they sell. It also linked to the Pantone Shopping Color Guide, a $19.95 color fan geared toward consumers for situations just like the one we’re talking about here. But if you’re serious about accurate color, the full guides (uncoated paper would be the best representation next to the actual Pantone cotton swatches) are not too much more of an investment.

The comments on the Sewing Divas post bring up the fact that Pantone is a proprietary system, and the colors/numbers are their intellectual property and cannot be used without a licensing agreement with the company. Does anyone know more about that? I will research and post my findings.

{Thanks, Deana!}


  1. stacy says:

    Hi Kim!

    Many sites will also cut a swatch for you. I know and do comp. swatches for customers. We finally had to start charging b/c of so many requests but if folks order say an aqua pagoda swatch (we do 8X8 inch)we always throw in any swatches that would coordinate.

    I think its the only way to get a true representation of the color.

  2. Pantone is great! I use their swatches all of the time for my design work, mostly the solid coated chips. The little fan books are probably all you would need if you were just using it for color matching and usually they have pretty good deals on those on Amazon as well…I haven’t heard anything about the copyright issues but I would think as long as you own the swatch book and refer back to Pantone you could reference the numbers…hmmm…yes, please keep us posted if you find out for sure!

  3. Hmm, I didn’t think that you had to have a licensing agreement with Pantone in order to specify what Pantone color your item is. In the past I’ve use the colors of a brand new box of Crayola crayons to describe a color. But I guess that runs into the same problem.

  4. Jane says:

    Rotary International references Pantone numbers in their style manual and they added this information/disclaimer:

    “In lieu of the Rotary colors specified in this manual, you may use the following PANTONE® Colors, the standards for which are shown in the current edition of the PANTONE Color Formula Guide.
    Rotary Colors PANTONE Colors
    For Rotary Blue Use PANTONE® 286
    For Rotary Gold Use PANTONE® 129
    For Rotary Gold Metallic Use PANTONE® 871
    The colors shown throughout this manual are not intended
    to match the PANTONE Color Standards.
    PANTONE® is the registered trademark of Pantone, Inc.”

  5. giardino says:

    I use Pantone as a guide for informing customers of fabric colors, as a graphic designer I’ve been using PMS colors for years. I wasn’t aware of the use limitations, maybe I’ll add a disclaimer similar to Rotary International’s as posted by Jane.