Adobe’s Pantone Colors Fade to Black: Users Turn Rubine Over Removal of Libraries from Creative Cloud 2023

When you fire up the 2023 version of InDesign, the new artwork on the splash screen shows an eye-catching drawing of a color matching guide of bright colors—an ironic theme, given the shoes that have dropped in Adobe’s slow-motion breakup with Pantone in the past year and the changes in the software that users are now starting to see.

InDesign 2023 splash screen

Even with months of warning that changes were in the offing, users opening an existing duotone in the new release of Photoshop found themselves shocked by a dialog box that reads, “This file has Pantone colors that have been removed and replaced with black due to changes in Pantone’s licensing with Adobe.”

Modal dialog box in Photoshop says "This file has Pantone colors that have been removed and replaced with black due to changes in Pantone's licensing with Adobe. To resolve, click "learn more."

When you open a Photoshop file with a spot color channel that uses a Pantone color, you’re met with a terrifying dialog box.

Not long after the software’s release, Iain Anderson, a multidisciplinary creative professional in Australia, posted a tweet with an image of the message and a warning to Adobe users about the change.

Anderson’s message Twitter made the viral video, which generated 18,000 retweets. This prompted a conversation among Twitter users about the topic, with views ranging from terror over the fate of their legacy data to furious outrage about the principle Adobe removing software features.

Twitter thread with screen shot of Photoshop dialog box

Iain Anderson’s tweet warning designers about the Photoshop changes went viral.

The upshot is that users who want to continue to have access to the Pantone libraries unabated will need to subscribe to Pantone Connect, the company’s separate monthly subscription service ($14.99 per month or $89.99 per year U.S.;—a price that has increased by 88% since January.

At least on Anderson’s Twitter thread, that bottom line has reignited user backlash about Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription model, which has been in effect for almost a full decade.

Changes explained

According to the help files linked to the dialog boxes the only remaining color libraries will be Pantone+ CMYK Coated and Pantone+ CMYK Uncoated after November.

The remaining color books have already disappeared from Illustrator, and they now appear as subfolders in “Legacy Swatches,” a new folder in Photoshop’s swatch libraries. There, you can see the swatches but can’t use them.

In practice, Adobe won’t touch your existing files, which should continue to work without modification.

However, the changes can still have jarring consequences

True to the warning, when you open a legacy Photoshop file with a Pantone-color-defined monotone, a duotone, a tritone, or another type of spot color channel, such colors will appear not in their original hues but as the default Photoshop black (#000000 hex, or 75C/68M/67Y/90K).

Import that image into InDesign—even the 2023 version—and it will separate into spot colors as expected, with the original color intact.

When you import an image file containing a spot color, it will appear in the Swatches panel. However, the swatch cannot now be edited.

When opening a legacy file with Pantone spot colors in Illustrator, you’ll encounter a blue warning banner: “Some Pantone colors may no longer be available due to changes in Pantone’s licensing with Adobe.”

Anderson responded to his tweet with a YouTube video. Anderson then outlined his warning in a screencast.

“Now, to be fair, most people won’t work like this very often, but it’s not an uncommon workflow in packaging,” Anderson said as he demonstrated a spot color channel opening as black.

One user noted the chaos these changes can cause in a screen printing environment.

“Shop I work at uses solid coated books for all our film outputs, Illustrator, and Photoshop,” the Twitter user wrote. “This is going to make confirming accuracy of a print’s design prior to garment application a damn nightmare.”

So—What to Do?

Judging from some of the responses to Anderson’s tweet, a number of Adobe customers are not conversant in what Pantone spot colors actually are.

And as such tweets get traction outside the realm of graphic design, prepress, and printing,  they command the attention of writers who likely have never encountered the terms “spot color” or “separation.”

Case in point: “You’re Going To Have To Pay To Use Some Fancy Colors In Photoshop Now: Due to a change in how Adobe licenses Pantone colors, old PSD files could start being filled in black,” warns the headline of an Oct. 28 post on a gaming site, Kotaku.

However, the truth is that customers who value color matching and corporate identity are not going bankrupt by additional monthly expenses.

Alternatives and Workarounds

You have options if you want to make a Pantone spot colour in your files. Remember that the actual color you pick to define your swatch won’t have any meaning for a spot color project. Your printer will print that color using inks prepared from Pantone’s proprietary ink recipes.

You can create a spot color swatch directly in Photoshop, InDesign, or Illustrator and name it whatever you like—including by the old swatch name. Visually, you can use the Color Picker and the sliders to match the Pantone swatch books’ printed color.

CreativePro published an alternative in 2022 for those looking for a more accurate approximation. The method, from Paul Nylander of the Twin Cities InDesign User Group, uses Pantone’s Lab color definitions available legitimately in the free version of its Pantone Connect extension.

You can import color swatches of an AI document into Illustrator with all Pantone-coated colors. This is thanks to a user who uploaded it the Internet Archive. These swatches are available as Adobe Swatch Exchange (ASE) files that can be imported into Photoshop and InDesign.

For designers wanting to restore the swatches to which they’re accustomed, all it takes to add a color library is to add the appropriate ACB (Adobe Photoshop Color Book) file to a designated folder in your application’s Presets folder.

Users with older versions have access to the ACB files in InDesign and Illustrator.

For her part, earlier this year, Pantone Vice President and General Manager Elley Cheng described such workarounds are “neither legal nor ethical.”

Meanwhile, artist Stuart Semple has weighed in with an alternative of sorts, with  an open-source color matching system, Freetone, consisting of “1280 liberated colors” as a free download of an ASE file on his website.

InDesign swatches panel shows Sempletone colors

Artist Stuart Semple has released an ASE file with “Sempletone” colors.

The swatches, when imported, display as “Sempletone” with numbers that correspond with Pantone’s.

The British painter is known for his feud with another artist, Anish Kapoor, over Kapoor’s development of Vantablack, a proprietary substance that when introduced was considered the world’s blackest material.

Semple, operating under the principle that color should be in the public domain, developed what he professed was the world’s pinkest pink paint, the world’s most glittery glitter, and some very dark but affordable black paints. He makes these products available to world—to anyone, that is, except Kapoor.

Similarly, Semple has published Freetone—provided that “you are not an employee of Adobe or Pantone, nor are you associated with Adobe or Pantone, and to the best of your knowledge, information, and belief this palette will not make its way into the hands of anyone at Adobe or Pantone.”

Some other users emerged from Anderson’s Twitter thread having learned more of the nuances of the software changes but confused about Adobe’s implementation of replacing the Pantone colors with black.

“Understood, but swapping in black?” wrote Marc LaFleur, a software developer from Massachusetts. “It just feels like a case of ‘there are no good options, so let’s choose the worst possible one.’”