Adobe Is Removing Pantone Swatches From Its Products. But Is It Really a Big Deal?

By Sarah K Perlman
February 10, 2022

As a Graphic Communications major at Clemson, I became familiar with the Pantone Matching System (PMS) and its cult status among designers and printers alike. When I landed my first job at a printing company, I was gifted my very own PMS swatchbook. It felt like winning the lottery – probably because those swatchbooks cost hundreds of dollars! I felt validated as a “real” member of the industry.

Cut to December 2021, when Adobe announced that as of March 2022, the Pantone Color Libraries will be removed from future software updates. This includes Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Adobe Color, and Adobe Capture. To say that I (and millions of designers and printers across the world) was shocked is an understatement! I couldn’t believe that these two industry giants would part ways and leave people hanging.

For more than 30 years, Pantone has been a critical element in print workflows. Across all printing categories – from screen printing to offset to large format – Pantone has been a touchstone that connects designers and printers, keeping everyone on the same page. (See what I did there?)

Along with the announcement, Adobe stated that they were working on alternative solutions. It appears that they have some workarounds in place for users, but why is this change taking affect in the first place? And what does it mean for those of us who rely on the integration of Pantone into Adobe products?

Why is Adobe Booting Pantone?

Marcie Foster, director of brand management and marketing communication at Pantone, stated that the libraries in Adobe’s programs are outdated and missing many newer colors. There was a limited number of PMS swatches available in Adobe products to begin with. Only around 2/3 of the 15,000 PMS colors were included, and none of the fashion or home and interior colors. Foster emphasized that this move will provide a better user experience.

Yet industry experts speculate that Pantone’s exorbitant licensing fees likely have to do with the split. Pantone recently launched its own digital platform for designers called Pantone Connect. This platform aims to streamline users’ decision-making process when selecting colors for projects. It is being marketed as the singular access point for all PMS colors across all systems and is available as a mobile app as well as desktop. To use Pantone libraries with Adobe Creative Cloud, users will need the Pantone Connect plug-in.

What Are the Implications for Designers and Printers?

As outrageous as this situation seemed at first glance, the reality isn’t that bad. The Pantone Connect app and extension are free if you create an account! The free version includes all 15,000 colors, measurement tools with PMS reference numbers, and creation and storage of 10 palettes. I signed up for a free account in about 3 minutes with minimal personal information – basically just my email address. I’m sure it will be just as simple to add the extension in my Adobe Creative Cloud programs.

If the free version isn’t enough, users can upgrade to Premium for $7.99/month or $59.99/year. The Premium version includes more tools and unlimited palette creation. Most working professionals spend more than that on far more trivial purchases. If relying on PMS colors is your livelihood, it seems like a small price to pay for an optional upgrade.

Despite the ease of use and a robust free option, the average user rating is hovering at 1.86 stars out of 5 right now. People are NOT pleased, and they are letting everyone know. But what I don’t understand is why? Are they just salty because it’s going to require 10 minutes of setup? Have they not done any research of their own? Is outrage just that contagious?

How Useful Is Pantone Anymore Anyway?

I think it’s a nonissue to just get a free Pantone Connect account, but this whole discussion brings up a larger point. It might sound sacrilegious to many designers and print industry experts, but maybe it’s time to rethink our reliance on Pantone. As digital printing continues to evolve, technology is removing the need for spot inks. Sure, PMS colors are useful for viewing premixed swatches and dialing in on a specific color value, but we have the capability to build infinite colors. It’s not as though we are limited in our ability to measure and define color! CMYK, RGB, and Lab values translate just as well.

Before you come after me with pitchforks and torches, I accept that this would be a massive change. It’s not something that would happen overnight! But I’d be willing to bet that even branding giants like Coca-Cola don’t simply use PMS colors anymore – there’s just too much digital printing to rely on a single, non-scientific system. As technology advances and the printing industry evolves, we need to think outside the box – and the swatch.

What do YOU think? Is everyone overreacting, or am I delusional to think that it’s so easy to get the extension? Let me know!

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