Your company brand may soon be held hostage to Adobe, Pantone (u)

If your company brand assets were created in Adobe Creative Suite using Pantone colors you may now need to pay a fee to use them, even if they are many years old.

Apple, Adobe, Pantone, branding

The truism that Hell is other people is proving true once again as companies that have standardized their brand assets using Pantone colors in documents created in the industry leading Adobe Creative Suite may now find those valuable items unusable thanks to reasons that make little sense.

** Updated to add statement received from Adobe.

What’s the story?

For decades, Adobe has offered support for Pantone spot colors within its creative apps, including Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator.

Given that Adobe’s products are the go-to design suites for most creative departments, and that most companies wield a mix of print and online graphics assets for their brands, it’s reasonable to think that at least some of your company’s brand assets have been created using Pantone.

Pantone is, after all, a standardized set of colors to ensure what is printed matches the colors designers choose. Printers use these colors (and purchase them) to ensure this kind of print veracity. It’s also why companies invest in color calibration for their print assets, usually around Pantone — and anyone who has ever worked in branding with large companies knows the value they place in accurate color reproduction.

After November, the only Pantone Color books remaining for use without a license will be Pantone + CMYK Coated, Pantone + CMYK Uncoated, and Pantone + Metallic Coated.

The spirit of free enterprise?

While the standard is a standard, its ownership is private.

This was fine for years. Pantone licensing was included with the cost of Creative Suite. But under a new arrangement, Adobe customers must now take out a separate subscription for a Pantone license. This is called Pantone Connect and costs $15/month or $90 each year.

Adobe flagged that this change was coming in June.

Now, that kind of cost may seem to be small potatoes when you consider the value of your brand assets, but as companies struggle with increasing energy costs, accelerating pressures on supply chains, and unravelling consumer confidence, this represents yet another challenge to resolve.

That it comes now will do nothing to build user loyalty for either firm.

Paint it black

So, what happens if you don’t pay? In theory, your company assets should be fine — they were made before the new arrangement, right? Sadly, this is not the case. Existing PSD files replace Pantone spot colors with black when opened, even if those documents are decades old.

That’s right. That logo you have plastered on everything from letter heads to T-shirts no longer works, which means whoever in your supply chain has access to and needs to use that logo no longer do.

By extension, every single partner with which your company works that need access to your brand assets will face the same problem. That small repro house you like to use to print point-of-sale flyers? They’ll need a Pantone license. As will any remote designers you employ for small emergency tasks.

If they use Pantone with Adobe, they’ll need to pay.

This also means that if you have people working on branded campaigns today, they will likely need to cough up this cash to Pantone for use of what has always been made available for free for decades or more.

Who thought this was a good idea?

I don’t know the genesis of this decision. I understand that companies in general like to make money. But I can recognize an ineptly applied decision when I see one.

It doesn’t really matter if this clumsy exercise is the brainchild of Adobe, Pantone, or both, because the way it has been applied it will have unwanted repercussions across so many levels of the brand asset/company supply chain.

Adobe isn’t saying much, it simply writes: “Pantone’s licensing with Adobe was adjusted. Due to this change, customers will need to purchase Pantone Connect licenses to access Pantone colors in Adobe Creative Cloud products.”

Pantone has given what seems to be a highly confused account of what drove its decision. In an FAQ (widely reported as outdated), it claims: “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.”

Both companies have had a few months to deliver an "improved in-app experience." They don’t seem to have done so.

Instead, the result feels like one of those terrible Kafka-esque situations in which customers are promised a better user experience while quite plainly experiencing a dramatically reduced one.

It would be good if Adobe could deliver some solace soon, perhaps in the form of a software update to make it possible to at least export documents created using Pantone colors to another format, rather than holding people’s creative suites hostage.

Are there workarounds?

Some. Print Week suggests one, but you need to have a backup of the Adobe software that pre-dates the current version.

But such is the power of the Pantone brand that for many big firms (and their down- and up-stream suppliers) there will be little choice if color consistency matters to them but to cough up the cash and seek alternatives further down the line.

The way this decision is being executed is already upsetting users, including tens of thousands of companies worldwide. To my mind, it matches the anger felt by owners when BMW announced plans to charge car drivers $15/month for the luxury of heated seats.

The decision and the way it is being applied represents a horrifying own goal for both firms, and may well be a business study lecture in how not to create good customer experiences for the future.

Adobe statement

We received a statement from Adobe at c. 6:42pm Eastern, November 4. This follows in full below:

"As we had shared in June, Pantone decided to change its business model. Some of the Pantone Color Books that are pre-loaded in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign were phased-out from future software updates in August 2022. To access the complete set of Pantone Color Books, Pantone now requires customers to purchase a premium license through Pantone Connect and install a plug-in using Adobe Exchange. 

"We are currently looking at ways to lessen the impact on our customers. In the meantime, customers also have access to up to 14 extensive color books through Creative Cloud subscriptions. 

"Adobe Creative Cloud empowers creators with flagship apps like Photoshop, Illustrator etc. to create wherever inspiration strikes and now offers innovations like Share for Review for collaboration, new AI tools to simplify complex tasks, and powerful image editing within the browser." 

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Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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