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Explaining and Resolving the Adobe/Pantone Color Quarrel

If you work with color in the publishing world, you may have heard about how a licensing dispute between Adobe and Pantone has resulted in Pantone Color Books being phased out of Adobe Creative Cloud apps, starting with updates to Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop released after 16 August 2022. After November 2022, only three Pantone Color Books will remain: Pantone + CMYK Coated, Pantone + CMYK Uncoated, and Pantone + Metallics Coated.

To access all other Pantone Color Libraries, Creative Cloud users must purchase a $59.99 per year ($7.99 per month) Pantone Connect license and access the libraries through the generally unpopular Pantone Connect plug-in. For the most part, existing files should continue to work as before, although Adobe offers details of how files in IllustratorInDesign, and Photoshop may be affected.

A possible workaround may come from the FREETONE color palette plug-in from Stuart Semple of Culture Hustle. The plug-in provides 1280 “Pantone-ish” colors that Semple says are nearly indistinguishable from Pantone colors. It’s available for free to anyone who doesn’t work for or with Adobe or Pantone.

If you find all this as confusing as we do, turn to Dan Vincent’s The Adobe and Pantone Color Apocalypse: Frequently Asked Questions post on his Userlandia blog and podcast.

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Comments About Explaining and Resolving the Adobe/Pantone Color Quarrel

Notable Replies

  1. Thank you for this. I was setting up a Mac Studio Pro for an old client that is restarting her work - left for raising family. She made comments about Pantone (tossed out all her swatch books since most were faded and inaccurate, and dated) that they are charging for their colors in Adobe. This just helps refute how Adobe and Pantone are.

  2. Thanks for article, and the link to another excellent article. Pantone’s change is super extremely disruptive for just about everyone involved in the design and printing industries in any way, shape or form. Pantone colors are also used heavily by the fashion and cosmetic industries for product colors, packaging, labeling and advertising as well as the products themselves. There’s even a Pantone Skin Tone Guide:

    https://www.pantone.com/articles/product-spotlight/skintone-guide-revealing-the-new-pantone-skintone-guide

    In addition to inflating the costs, what I think is the most exceptionally creepy is that Pantone colors in old Photoshop files are being replaced with black when they’re opened in newer versions of the software. And a basic subscription to Netflix is $9.99 a month, and Netflix shells a lot more dough for infrastructure development, content creation and licensing, delivery of content, etc.

  3. Honestly, everything about this suggests to me that all (or at least most) of the blame lies with Pantone, not Adobe. Basically, Pantone has decided to be greedy. I’m willing to bet that they asked Adobe for a huge increase in the license fee for the included libraries, and Adobe said no to it. So Pantone pulled the license.

    If Adobe had had any leverage in this at all, they would (should) have negotiated a workaround to avoid having the colors referenced in old files blacked out. This would require the apps retaining access to the libraries solely for the purpose of replacing those colors with their RGB/CMYK/Lab equivalents, or providing a tool with which to do so. That they didn’t do this tells me that Pantone wasn’t willing to make even that much of a concession without terms that Adobe wouldn’t agree to.

    This really doesn’t surprise me, because Pantone has a de facto monopoly on color matching and isn’t afraid to exploit and abuse it. The cost of their printed color samples has skyrocketed from what was already absurd prices thirty years ago when I was first dealing with them. We need a good, widely available alternative.

  4. Perhaps some designers can chime in on how much those “swatches” cost in the day (the paper ones that swung out), the boxes of “chits” that you would tear off and tape to a customer’s project, the books and more. And that UV would fade them, or “they would expire” because they were never printed to keep their “permanence”. There were also licenses to matching optics, and to Quark, Corel, and Adobe. Since the web uses RGB, and many moved to design for web… graphic designers are few and far between. And I’m not even counting the pre-press houses that closed up, that were paying for Pantone RIP software, etc.
    Anyone in digital printing and dealing with Pantone licensing? (if permissible to discuss).

  5. I think it’s 50/50%. Adobe decided to dump Pantone, probably because they didn’t want to pay whatever they have been paying, and Pantone probably wanted them to pay more for consistently updating their library.

    “Since 2010, the Pantone color libraries within Adobe’s apps have not been updated. The Pantone Color Libraries in Creative Cloud today are therefore significantly out of date and missing hundreds of new Pantone Colors. Pantone and Adobe have together decided to remove the outdated libraries and jointly focus on an improved in-app experience that better serves our users.”

    https://www.pantone.com/articles/faq/pantone-connect-adobe-faq

    The ultimate losers will be designers and artists and companies who now have to pay a separate fee.

  6. I worked in magazine ad sales for decades, and then segued into recruiting for creative, strategic and production talent for ad agencies and media companies. Although I was not a production person, I do know quite a bit about print, digital and broadcast production, including the science and art of color and color management.

  7. I worked with Pantone stuff in the old days (the 90s) and they always felt like dealing with a blackmailer. Most of it was BS, like supposedly replacing your expensive (I see they’re now $200+) color books every year.

    (When I went independent as a designer I bought my own, kept it in the dark out of light, and it’s still just fine two decades later. Of course, I don’t have the latest “new” colors, but the whole purpose of Pantone is to be long-term consistent, so 185C 30 years should still be the same color today.)

    Note that my boss at the printshop felt that the price of those color swatch books was fair: they would be a nightmare to print, he always said. Not only does each page in the fan book have many spot colors on it (each precisely mixed), you’ve got some with varnish and some without, you’ve got to print the same colors on coated and uncoated paper, and the whole thing cut and assembled. In huge quantities the cost wouldn’t be too bad, but printing small numbers would be massively expensive.

    Of course, the need for Pantone mainly depends on what you are doing with the color. I worked at a printshop, so we had to be able to mix actual colors and match them closely, which meant having accurate books and inks. Then again, we were a small family shop and most of our clients were not that picky. (We had a few corporate clients who had specific colors for their logos and we had to be extra-careful with those.)

    These days not nearly as much is getting printed with everyone going virtual, so I can see how Pantone is desperate for new revenue streams. Paying $60/year isn’t that bad, for the few people who really need it, though I can’t imagine it would be that many. The ones that need it would be high-end design houses with huge corporate clients like Coca-Cola and Apple and they can easily afford $7.99 a month!

    (For spot colors, the actual on-screen color is irrelevant – I did many print jobs where I used say, black and red on-screen but the color used when printing was different. All that really mattered was that the spot colors were separated properly for the printing plates and that the press was filled with the actual ink color you wanted.)

    I am still really confused by all the fake news with this controversy. I keep seeing $15/month mentioned when Pantone’s own site says $7.99. I also read one article that said this didn’t apply to the highest tier of Creative Cloud ($55/month) only the lower ones, where you pay for just a single app. This article and others make it sound like it’s all tiers. (I have Creative Cloud sub, but haven’t even bothered to look as I don’t really have any need/use for Pantone colors any more.) It also sounds like some Pantone colors remain, just not the full library, which is even more baffling.

    It definitely sounds like a PR battle between Pantone and Adobe and it’s everyone else who is gets screwed.

  8. I worked in magazine ad sales for decades, and many fashion, makeup, automotive, jewelry, home furnishings and decorations, paint colors, vacation destinations, athletic wear, garden design, food, etc., etc., etc., were laser focused on color fidelity and willing to pay the extra bucks for Pantone matching.

  9. Yes, Pantone got greedy. But as detailed in previous posts, they always have been greedy. Adobe shares the blame, just as they did with AC3 encoding for DVD production. After 2017, Adobe dropped support for encoding the AC3 audio to go with the M2V video needed for DVDs, and the very same excuse was used back then by Adobe. They also told me at NAB, “Creative Cloud is for creation, not for distribution,” which makes no sense at all. Adobe decided to outsource AC3 encoding and leave the burden on their users to figure out how to clean up the mess. Now they’ve done the same thing for graphic designers.
    Just like Apple’s complete obstruction of the ability to burn DVDs, Adobe has sided with the web designers and forced print graphic designers out of the market. After all, as I’m sure Adobe would tell you, “no one designs for print anymore.” The Big Boys force technology forward, and as long as we depend on companies like Adobe, we suffer the scrapes and bruises of being dragged behind their vehicle.

  10. Just about any time you pick up a book, a newspaper, poster, a can or a package, or look at a sign, wall art, or even wallpaper, a catalog or magazine, or even a license plate, you are looking at print. Across the globe, any time of day or night, people are wearing printed clothing or sitting or sleeping on printed fabric or furniture. There’s offset printing, lithography, etching, screen print, engraving, intaglio, dry point, mezzotint, large format, 3D, digital to press, monotype, rotogravure, flexography, photo printing, etc,.etc. No matter what type of professional printing is involved, the chances are good that at least one Adobe product and/or service is involved in its production.

    “ Adobe PDF Print Engine is built into prepress solutions offered by industry-leading solution vendors. RIP products from our partners are used to manage inkjet print workflows in a broad range of industrial applications. Hundreds of different presses and print configurations are supported, and may be highly customized or integrated with finishing equipment. Substrates could include: ceramics, textiles, glass, wood, corrugated cardboard, flexible/rigid plastic, flat and direct-to-shape decoration, etc.”

    https://www.adobe.com/products/industrialprint/industrialprint-innovation.html

  11. Here’s how Steve Jobs got Andy Warhol involved in using Macs just when “1984 would not be like 1984”

  12. I do hope my sarcasm was clear in my final sentence. Of course I agree 100% with you. Adobe (and Apple) look forward to the future, which is great, but they should keep an ear to the ground, and an awareness of situations where the past has not yet become dust and blown away.
    No more need for stables at hotels anymore, but yes, there are still DVDs and packaging and print materials in color. Heck, there is even a demand for film stock for shooting movies, as that industry discovered to their immense surprise.

  13. Christopher Nolan shot Dunkirk in IMAX in 2017, and it was edited and was initially distributed on film to the few remaining IMAX theaters. It was converted to digital, by that time there were few theaters that had film projectors.

    Quentin Tarantino shoots only in film, but the film stock is converted to digital for editing. There are many other directors who develop their film and edit digitally.

  14. It’s not every day that you get linked in one of your regular reading spots. Thanks!

    No matter what type of professional printing is involved, the chances are good that at least one Adobe product and/or service is involved in its production.

    This is true, but the world of print hasn’t been Adobe’s focus for years.

    I am still really confused by all the fake news with this controversy. I keep seeing $15/month mentioned when Pantone’s own site says $7.99.

    It’s $15/month if you pay on a monthly basis, or $7.99/month if you pay for a year up front. IMO offering the monthly plan is a mistake by Pantone.

    It also sounds like some Pantone colors remain, just not the full library, which is even more baffling.

    The timeline went something like this:

    Adobe quietly announced in December 2021 that Pantone libraries would be going away in the future. Then it was announced that the date would be in March 2022. News starts to spread and after the print community made a lot of noise the date gets pushed back to the fall (where we are now) and that the Pantone Matching System Solid library would remain for now. No guidance is given as to when Solid will go away, but my pessimistic take is that it’s gone by next year’s CC release.

    There’s a lot of places to get lost in the weeds on this (from a technical and business standpoint) but Adobe should have handled seps set as book color better than they have.

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