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Adobe has changed its approach to Pantone…what now?

If you’ve worked with a brand, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered a Pantone color. And if your work involves design, it very likely relies on the Adobe Creative Suite to get the job done. For many of us in the branding/marketing/design/communication realm, we utilize both on the regular. So, Adobe’s recent transition to a paywall plugin for Pantone use might very well have a major impact on our projects.  

Let’s break down what’s happening and ways we can minimize the potential fallout of this inconvenient development.

Wait, what’s going on?

Last year, Adobe announced it would no longer integrate the Pantone Matching System (PMS) library — a proprietary numbering system for colors used in graphic design — into its products as part of the standard Creative Suite subscription. Instead, users who want to ensure exact matches need to secure an additional subscription to Pantone Connect – for roughly $90/year.

Pantone has been the standard for color specification since the 1950s. Adobe has been the software of choice for graphic design for decades. For years, Adobe has seamlessly incorporated select PMS color palettes, allowing brands to employ a color that can be duplicated across multiple applications. Now, for reasons that are not entirely clear, that has changed. An Adobe user that does not subscribe to Pantone Connect may see PMS colors in their files replaced with black.

What can we do about it?

At The Marketing Collective, we’re taking a different approach to working with PMS colors in design files to avoid any anomalies in creating deliverables. We are checking archived projects for PMS colors as they reprint and developing all news projects with CYMK or RGB equivalents versus Pantone spot colors. And, perhaps most importantly, we’re not panicking.

“Over the years, PMS spot colors have begun to be phased out of print projects as it’s become more cost effective to print four-color or digitally using a CMYK equivalent to the PMS,” said Susan Griggs, TMC’s Senior Creative Strategist. “It’s not unusual to not use spot PMS colors, so while this change is affecting some things, it’s not impacting the majority of our work. It’s an inconvenience, and it is certainly something to be aware of, but it’s really just following the natural evolution of graphic design as things shift away from print and toward digital.” For now, if a PMS color is needed, Pantone Connect appears to be the option, though the design community is developing workarounds, including Freetone, a “Pantone-ish” plugin for Adobe that closely mimics more than 1,200 PMS colors.

What else should we consider?

It’s important to be aware that so far the color substitutions seem to be somewhat random. Plus, if a designer subscribes to Pantone Connect, PMS colors will display normally – but those that do not have the subscription may see those colors as black. Also, cross-platform work to PC from Mac may display color variations. Because of this, it’s important do a visual check by fully downloading and opening files to proof and review before sharing.

What does this mean long term?

It’s unclear whether this situation will be resolved as part of a revised licensing agreement between Pantone and Adobe, or if we’ll be dealing with this new business model for the long haul. Whatever direction things take, we’re confident all the creatives out there will find creative ways to handle it… And of course we’re always happy to connect to discuss your specific marketing needs.

If you’d like to read more about the Adobe/Pantone issue, check out these takes by Wired, PrintWeek, and NPR.

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