The announcement last week that X-Rite is to acquire Pantone is a very significant announcement for the future of color in almost any industry but in particular within the graphic arts industries. One of the reasons for this is that it will allow X-Rite to develop new offerings that build upon the brand image of Pantone but which will significantly enhance the simplification of complex color through to the brand owners and to the designer’s desktops. In making this comment I look back to an article I wrote five years ago on the planned CxF color transfer format being put forward by Gretag Macbeth, now X-Rite. The following is an extract of that article from October 2002.

“CxF is a proposal for a file format that can be used by any organization and with any software that is set-up to be able to generate or read CxF. In this way it is rather more of a product aiming to become a standard than say PDF, which in most cases requires an Adobe product to create or read it. CxF fulfils a major need that is not filled by co lour management, CIP3 or CIP4, JDF (Job Description Format), or any other format. Color management is good and getting better, and is used to ensure predictable overall co lour production from creation to printing. What co lour management does not do is ensure specific colors are accurately produced. This is what CxF is for to very accurately define spot colors within a page and to transfer that co lour information to every stage of the production process. CxF is an open format that can be generated by any system and read by any system. It conforms to other standards and is written in XML (Extensible Mark-up Language). As such CxF could be contained within a JDF data envelope as it conforms to JDF structures, and could therefore be read by JDF conforming systems.

Between X-Rite and Pantone all the tools necessary to define and measure color will be found in a dominant fashion from one organization.

It may be asked why is CxF necessary when there is already a very well used way of defining spot colors This way is using co lour swatch books produced by companies like Pantone. This is precisely the reason why CxF is necessary. These swatch book approaches are incapable of both defining and accurately transferring many specific colors accurately. They are the cause of many problems in getting accurate co lour printed correctly, and are not suited for use in photo processing, on the Internet and other non-printing delivery systems. Pantone as an example of these systems does not have a full co lour gamut of all colors that can be printed, because of the technique used in the production of the swatches. It also is really only representative of high quality co lour printed on gloss paper. It does not accurately represent colors printed on lower grades of paper or on colored substrates. Using swatches for selecting colors is also inaccurate because it depends on the co lour perception of the user of the swatches, the lighting conditions, and the quality and calibration of the co lour monitor if a computer system is being used for implementing the co lour selection process. Pantone, and other swatch-based systems were appropriate for quality printing in pre-digital workflow days. Today with modern digital solutions these are becoming outdated, even with their modern reading extensions.

CxF differs in that it is a spectrally based solution. That means colors are read using spectrophotometers. This is the only 100% accurate way of reading and defining colors The CxF format however goes far beyond just reading co lour spectrally. It allows the data to be presented in various different formats including CIElab, CMYK, RGB, etc. The format also allows for the ink recipe for making the ink to be carried within the file so it can be sent to the ink maker to make the ink.”

Among the reasons that CxF didn’t happen were that Gretag Macbeth did not have the market position to get this standard accepted; the potential opposition and possible legal action from Pantone; and the fact that at that time spectrophotometers were to expensive to put on designer’s desktops. Now that all of these objections can be overcome I would expect to see X-Rite push forward with CxF or a derivative of it.

I foresee X-Rite becoming the predominant color company in the world in all aspects of color specification and definition in all industries.

Between X-Rite and Pantone all the tools necessary to define and measure color will be found in a dominant fashion from one organization. This will mean that within all industries where getting accurate color created, X-Rite will be a most significant player. Pantone has established a very strong position in the selection of color and has in recent years added electronic tools to help in this selection of specific colors. X-Rite has in fact provided many of these tools to Pantone. One has to say however that Pantone has been a restrictive organization in opening up color and has often threatened legal action against companies trying to produce alternative approaches to defining and selecting colors. At least now X-Rite can move forward to new advanced tools.

At present X-Rite is the dominant force in color measurement with its specific tools. It supplies free standing spectrophotomers, colorimeters and densitometers, as well as providing the on the press closed loop measurement systems for both Heidelberg and Komori. X-Rite also supplies color measurement equipment to almost every prepress systems supplier and in reality has few serious competitors in the color measurement business. This applies also in other industries like paint and coatings, automotive, plastics and textiles, and medical and dentistry. Now with the Pantone brand it opens up the desktop area and provides better access into the software companies developing creative software, and to the brand owners and designers that are the key forces in specifying color. Pantone has expanded its color matching system to other industries where accurate color reproductions are critical, including digital technology, fashion, home, plastics, architecture and contract interiors, and paint. These will also help X-Rite expand with its color measurement systems into these markets. This will also be helped through Pantone’s network of over 100 distributors around the world.