When Pantone Color Matching Goes Wrong

The same Pantone color may not match in your Adobe design software

With the advent of Adobe Creative Suite 6 and the Creative Cloud®, Adobe added the Pantone Plus Series® of color books to replace the earlier Pantone Matching System® color books. So the spot color number that you used in the past may appear differently when viewed on screen or as a converted process color. The difference is due to the color mode used for the "book color", or the default values used to define the Pantone color in electronic form.

Note the default Book Color for the new Pantone Plus Series® in Adobe CS6. The color is defined by the Lab color mode, a versatile system with a wide range of color (gamut). This color can be converted to other color modes such as RGB or the smaller gamuts of web-safe and CMYK modes, as shown in the second image.

Adobe CS6 Pantone+ Book Color (Lab)

Adobe CS6 Pantone+ (converted) CMYK Color

Now notice the default Book Color in Adobe CS2. The color is defined by the CMYK color mode in whole numbers (integers).

This is why we needed a change. The previous mechanism to define Pantone color equivalents was not precise. Not only were we defining colors with the limited gamut of CMYK, we also limited ourselves to whole numbers for each CMYK channel.

Adobe CS2 Pantone Book Color (CMYK)

Adobe CS2 Pantone (converted) Lab Color


When we switch CS2's default book color mode from CMYK to Lab, we see that the Lab values are very different from the Lab values in CS6's book color. (The converted CMYK values also depend on the color profile conversion settings of the application.) These different values show that color is not consistent on screen or when converted to a process color, even with the same Pantone number.

CS Version L a b
2 52 -55 -13
6 45 -64 -7


CS Version C M Y K
2 100% 0% 44% 17%
6 100% 21.22% 63.81% 6.82%


To mitigate the inevitable color change as you migrate to the new book color definitions, follow standard color matching practices.

  • Calibrate your monitor.
  • Use an operating system and software that fully support color management.
  • Refer to a printed Pantone swatch book instead of relying on what shows on your screen.
  • When converting spot inks to print as process colors, verify your color conversion settings in the application.

Opening an older design document in CS6 will not redefine your existing spot colors. But you should be careful about adding new swatches to a legacy document. If it is absolutely necessary to maintain older Pantone definitions for conversion from spot to process, you can manually redefine your Pantone Plus Series® spot color to use the same CMYK values from the previous Pantone Matching System® color books. Or you can try loading your old Pantone color books into your application, as shown on Adobe's site linked below.

More fun reading appears on Adobe's web site.