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GE07: Pantone Makes Stunning Announcement: Is the PMS standard on its way out?


By Cary Sherburne
Published: September 5, 2007

 On September 5th, just before Graph Expo, Pantone made its second stunning announcement in a month, after surprising the industry with its acquisition by XRite.  With 45 years of promoting and supporting what has become an industry standard - PMS, or the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM® - Pantone is introducing a brand-new color specification system for the graphic arts industry, called PANTONE Goe (pronounced Go).  The company is not presuming to retire PMS, but is hoping to see rapid adoption of the new system, which it claims has a number of benefits.

PANTONE Goe is a new system, with a chromatic-like arrangement of 2,058 colors - compared to the 1,114 colors in the PMS system. It includes the familiar swatch book, but it also includes a number of very cool tools that make it easier than ever before to work with color - on your own or collaboratively, online, on the monitor and in print.  It is based on only 10 ink mixing bases, as compared with 14 before.  These bases have a stable global source of supply.  Pantone indicates that some of the bases in the past had limited availability in certain geographic areas.  Now, with only 10 bases, Pantone is allowing printers to do more with less, and these bases are also compatible with both aqueous and UV coatings, a requirement Pantone uncovered in its market research as it was developing the new system. The new GoeGuide™, which is the equivalent of the PMS swatch books, will be produced on Pantone’s new offset press using a uniform ink film thickness.  Before, various colors required different ink thicknesses to render them properly, With more inline color measurement on today’s presses, this is a significant advantage for the pressman and saves time, offers a faster drying time, and requires the use of less other materials such as powders to dry sheets. 

From a color perspective, the system is arranged chromatically, which makes it easier for designers and printers to work with.  With the PMS system, new colors were added at the end of the swatch book.  The new Goe numbering system allows new colors to be added in chromatic order.  Colors are arranged in a chromatic-like organization around 165 full-strength colors and the color families derived from them.  It uses a three-part numbering system that reflects the color family, the page location within that family, and the placement of the color on the page.  Pantone’s VP of Marketing Doris Brown explains, “Imagine a pie with 165 slices, with slices 1 through 5 reflecting yellow; 1 represents bright yellow and 5 represents reddish yellow. So color 1-1-1 would be the lightest yellow, and 5-1-7 is the reddest yellow before we move to the orange color family.  By the first digit, you know where your color is coming from on the color wheel, and the other numbers indicate the location of the color within the associated color family.” 

Pantone had already been introducing online tools for designers and others, but with Goe, this capability has been integrated into the system from its inception. Goe is an entire system that is comprised of:

  • PANTONE GoeGuide, the color selection and specification guide, printed on bright white #1 grade 100 lb coated offset text
  • PANTONE GoeSticks™, a two-volume set of adhesive-backed color chips; includes the PANTONE palette playground, a smooth plastic sheet lifter for use as a color palette test area and palette cards used for creating, sharing and archiving color palettes
  • myPANTONE Palettes, interactive software for color selection and palette building. It integrates into any application supporting system level color pickers, on Mac or PC.
  • myPANTONE.com, an online community for palette sharing, sort of a professional MySpace for color enthusiasts

One of its most exciting features is the imagePALETTE builder.  Brown says, “You can open a photograph and imagePALETTE builder will identify colors right out of the photo that you can use as palettes in your design.  And with the colorBLENDER, designers can ask the system to choose colors between a start and finish color.  For example, maybe you want to start with orange and finish with beige.  You can choose up to 83 individual steps between the colors that are mathematically computed.”

Interestingly, there is not a direct translation from the 1,114 PMS colors to the 2,058 Goe colors; there is approximately 40% crossover with the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM, according to Brown.  “For example,” she says, “a corporate brand color may have a 1 delta difference between PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM and Goe, a minimal difference that isn’t visible to the human eye.  So the speed with which people migrate to the new system will depend whether they want to take advantage of the capabilities of the new system.  We expect the migration to be strong and fast.”

With Goe, color palettes and Goe libraries can easily be imported into all of the various applications designers use, sharing color palettes across applications and people.  “In the past,” Brown says, “you had to create individual palettes in each application, and it takes a lot of time.  Now you can just design the palette once and easily import it into all of the applications you use, as well as share it with friends and colleagues.”

And in alignment with past strategy, Pantone is keeping costs low.  The complete Goe system sells for $499 and will be available October 1, 2007. It is compatible with both Mac and PC environments.

It will be interesting to see what type of adoption rate the Goe system finds in the marketplace, whether it will be “strong and fast” as Brown suggests.  There are many considerations, and Pantone indicates it has done its homework among the primary constituencies of printers, designers and brand owners.

For brand owners, who are really the first in the food chain, how willing will they be to “change colors,” if their PMS color is not one of the 40% cross-over colors?  Many companies have invested heavily in brand image and spent a lot of time selecting just the right corporate color(s). Will they buy in to the premise that the color differences are not distinguishable to the human eye if they move from a PMS color to the closest Goe color?  Will the colors really be indistinguishable enough to allow companies to mix inventories as they phase in the new colors?

Designers, it would seem, would be the first to jump on board.  They provided significant input into the process, and Pantone seems to have addressed their needs in some very creative and innovative ways, especially with the collaborative tools and palette imports. And doubling the number of colors available will be appealing to designers as well.

That being said, printers are likely to need to maintain both systems for some time to come.  But there is no question that they will need to jump on the Goe bandwagon.  Although printers will certainly continue to act in an advisory capacity relative to color selection and the printability of various colors, designers who are enthusiastic about the new system may be more likely to find a new printer than to back down on their color choice once they have selected a project color palette.

For many in the industry, this is a shocking announcement.  It will be fascinating to watch the market dynamics as it rolls out.

Cary Sherburne is a well-known author, journalist and marketing consultant whose practice is focused on marketing communications strategies for the printing and publishing industries.

Cary Sherburne is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us.

Please offer your feedback to Cary. She can be reached at cary@whattheythink.com.



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