After Nov. 22, 2022, regular users of Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign applications in Adobe Creative Cloud may notice that some of the Pantone color shades come up as black.

Well, turns out this is due to an ongoing conflict that Pantone is having with Adobe over licensing of Pantone’s industry-standard color shades. To make matters worse, if users want to use these shades, they will have to pay a separate monthly fee to access Pantone’s digital color books.

The problem stems from a dispute where Pantone claims that Adobe had been using an older version of their color profiles without paying a licensing fee.

The monthly subscription fee for the Pantone Connect service will be $15 a month, or $90 annually, payable through the Adobe Pantone Connect plugin. That’s on top of the $55-a-month Creative Cloud subscription Adobe charges. 

PantoneconnpluginCredit: Pantone USA

Pantone offers a proprietary color-matching system used by a variety of content creators, designers, and paint and ink manufacturers to maintain a consistent color shading system for design and manufacturing. But the downside is they are very expensive.

Moreover, Pantone requires companies to keep their licensing up to date every year with new color palettes developed by Pantone based on their Color Matching System. Pantone claims that Adobe was allegedly not doing that and was simply relying on older color-matching shades dating back to 2010. The result, what Pantone claims, is users unknowingly rely on an inaccurate color palette with hundreds of missing shades. How that affects workflow, however, is up for debate.

But according to Linus Tech Tips, the real reason may likely be a dispute over the license fees themselves, and Pantone has decided to launch its own subscription service for access to the color book palettes and will require Adobe to either pay them a separate license fee, or force users to subscribe to an independent subscription service, and then use a plugin to manage the service and gain access to the color palettes from within Creative Cloud.

PantoneconnectCredit: Pantone USA

“The fact of the matter is,” said Linus, “when I look at Adobe and Pantone, all I see is massive corporations ranked as the most profitable enterprises on earth.” 

Linus continues to say that the dispute has nothing to do with any real-world costs since it’s largely a digital issue. Linus adds that both sides rake in massive profits, and either could have easily absorbed the cost without directly impacting their clientele.

While that could be a reality, we see the truth of the matter as a bit more complicated. With big corporations like Adobe and Pantone, these types of adjustments aren't simply made by moving some numbers around on a ledger. There could be multiple departments working to make these things happen, and when a wrench hits the fan, the fix isn't always clear. When companies grow to that size, the cost of a service or an asset isn't always clear-cut. 

So what are creatives to do? Unfortunately, for the time being, users will have to bear the brunt of the cost moving forward. Even worse, Linus says that certain users are still forced to buy color swatch books and digital access to them. Essentially, they are forced to pay three times for the same access.

Can You Copyright a Color?

There is a larger issue, though. Can a company really copyright or demand a license fee on color shades?

Well, not strictly. But they can demand users pay a fee to use their proprietary system. There are a few workarounds—some are legitimate, and some aren’t.

pirate skeletonNo Film School does not condone piracy of any kind.Credit: @lindaswizz

Users can choose to rely on the CMYK color system, which is used in computer printers. However, this system is considered inferior since printer shade combinations can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and ink to ink.

The other workaround is to use certain free Pantone Plus libraries, which are available in older versions of Photoshop. Users can copy and paste them into the updated Creative Cloud libraries.

But Linus cautions that this may not work long-term. Either Adobe or Pantone can revoke access to these with no notice, and at the end of the day, it’s still an outdated collection of color shades.

The other workaround is to go open source through another designing and photo editing option like Serif Affinity 2. Users will have to pay a one-time lifetime fee for Affinity, plus an annual tribute to Pantone, and that’s likely to cost as much, or more, than just paying for the Adobe/Pantone plugin.

Serif Affinity 2 appsCredit: Affinity

What Should Creators Do?

This is one reason why some people engage in software piracy (which we don't condone). Users don’t object to paying for the tools they use, it is when they are caught in the middle and are forced to bear the cost increases as a result that they have a problem. For now, established creators that rely on Pantone will have to bite the bullet or rework their entire workflow.

But, in a world where software as a service is becoming the norm, from video games to design software and editing suites, there will always be alternatives that pop up. If creatives demand another solution, someone will come along to fulfill the need. After all, that's how we got DaVinci Resolve.

Leave us your thoughts in the comments.