March 02, 2023
This appears to be a year for changes in Adobe products. Being a subscriber of the Adobe Creative Cloud, I am accustomed to seeing a regular stream of updates. Generally, the changes are subtle and may even go unnoticed. Recently I wrote about the changes coming to Adobe products where Type 1 fonts will no longer be supported in Adobe applications. This change is coming on the heels of another change that has already been implemented in Adobe applications. This change comes in the form of a change to the Pantone libraries that are available in InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. Like the change to the Type 1 fonts, the Adobe applications have started displaying notification banners along the bottom of the application screen to draw our attention to the coming or implemented changes. These notifications only appear when the specific document is affected by the coming change. For example, if the document is using Type 1 fonts, the message about font changes appears. Opening a document that has spot colours may result in the display of the Pantone colour message.
For full Pantone colour support that allows for an extensive range of Pantone libraries, an extension is needed. Pantone Connect is the plugin that provides this functionality. The Premium subscription is listed at $19.99/month if on a monthly subscription. For an annual subscription, the price drops to $9.99/ month. This adds a significant cost for functionality that traditionally was included within the Adobe products. It appears that the consumer is the one that bears the cost of this parting of ways for Adobe and Pantone. Regardless of how we try to spin this change, the end result is a less integrated experience with another recurring cost deferred to designers. At this point, we are still evaluating if Pantone Connect provides value in our environment and how many workstations would benefit from a subscription.
The Pantone licensing change with Adobe has already taken effect. Here I will explore several of the applications to see how they are functioning without signing up for the Pantone Connect subscription. This will show some of the challenges you may encounter now that this change has been implemented. Note that if you typically avoid using Pantone colours, this change will likely have very little impact on your daily routine. In the event that you do work with Pantone colours, you may see some changes depending on the specific situation. The experience with this licensing change will be different depending on which application is using Pantone colours.
In order to test the effects, I have created several files in an older version of Photoshop. To test Pantone colours, I created a duotone using Black and a Pantone colour. I also created a multichannel file where I also used a Pantone colour for one of the channels. When opening the duotone, Photoshop displays the following warning. Opening the multichannel file produces the same warning.
Adobe Photoshop warning when opening a duotone
It is a little disturbing to see the preview colour for the duotone changed to black. This alters the visual appearance of the duotone. Fortunately, the spot colour channel still exists. It is only the colour preview that has been altered. The next step is to restore the spot colour preview to the proper colour. Using the Color Picker, selecting CMYK, LAB, or another colour library are all options.
Adobe Photshop Pantone Library options
Photoshop has a reduced set of Pantone libraries, but appears to maintain a limited set that includes:
PANTONE+ CMYK Coated
PANTONE+ CMYK Uncoated
PANTONE+ Metallic Coated
PANTONE+ Solid Coated
PANTONE+ Solid Uncoated
By selecting the PANTONE+ CMYK Coated library, I was able to select the proper Pantone colour and restore the visual appearance of the duotone. These libraries seem to be limited and do not contain all the colours that are available in my physical Pantone swatch book. If this happens to be the case for the colour used, an online search for the LAB or CMYK values may produce an acceptable simulation for screen. If the accuracy of the screen simulation is critical, a subscription to Pantone Connect may be necessary. If colour accuracy is not as critical, a replacement colour can be selected using the Color Picker. Oddly enough, this altered image maintains its colour even when it is opened in Photoshop a second time.
After creating a new document in Adobe Illustrator, I checked to see if any Pantone colour swatches were available. After a little searching, I could locate the same limited set of five libraries available in Photoshop. These libraries can be selected from the Swatches palette menu. Access these libraries using Open Swatch Library, Color Books, then select Pantone Library item.
Moving on to Adobe InDesign, I placed both the old Illustrator EPS and Photoshop duotone into a new document to see how they would perform. InDesign imports the Pantone spot colours from the placed graphic and adds them to the Swatches palette the same way it has in the past. Of interest is that the Pantone colours maintain their colour previews. As a result, the duotone and Illustrator placed images retain their proper spot colour preview. For placing existing images, the change in Pantone support does not make any difference.
Placing existing images that contain Pantone colours has minimal impact on the process. It is only when adding new colours or editing images in Photoshop that the full impact of the licensing change is felt.
Since this issue with licensing is specific to the relationship between Adobe and Pantone, I thought it was worth exploring the competitors to see if the Pantone Libraries are available.
I first checked out QuarkXPress to see how the list of Pantone Libraries compared to InDesign. QuarkXPress includes over three dozen Pantone Libraries to choose from. Colours that were no longer available in InDesign were still selectable in QuarkXPress. Next, I checked out Affinity Publisher and explored the Swatches for Pantone options. Here there were a dozen libraries to choose from. Similarly, colours missing from the Adobe products were available in Affinity Publisher.
Much like the transition from purchased software to subscription-based software, this has created a fork in the road. Some designers decided to camp out at the last version of InDesign before the subscription rolled out. Others decided to look for alternative design software. Once again, we are faced with the proposition of adding another subscription to continue to use the software features we have come to rely on. This may create another fork in the road that will motivate designers to part ways with Adobe. The bright spot about the landscape today is that the number of viable alternatives has increased
Some Pantone colors may no longer be available due to changes in Pantone’s licensing with Adobe.