Pantone explains controversial colour changes

PMS: regularly reviewed by Pantone’s team of colour scientists and trend experts
PMS: regularly reviewed by Pantone’s team of colour scientists and trend experts

Pantone has added 224 mixed colours and five base ink colours to the Pantone Matching System – with some of the new formulations causing angst among printing industry pros.

Pantone said the launch of the new colours had followed the integration of 294 Pantone Matching System Colors that were added in 2019 “for closer alignment with Pantone’s Fashion, Home + Interiors System.”

It said that the Pantone Matching System was regularly reviewed by Pantone’s team of colour scientists and trend and market experts “to further fill gaps in the existing system and allow for an even larger gamut of available colours, capabilities, integration, and standardisation for graphic and product designers, brands, printers, converters and ink manufacturers.”

However, graphic arts professionals were quick to voice their concerns about apparent inconsistencies between previous printed guides and the tiny percentages specified in some of the new colour formulations. 

Colour expert Eddy Hagen commented: “Designers might applaud this (more colours to choose from!), but printers are scratching their heads… Pantone is now using homeopathic level ink formulations, as low as 0.1%!”

The infamous Reflex Blue formulation has also changed. 

Printweek contacted Pantone about the printing industry concerns that had been raised. 

In response Pantone product manager Joyce Stempkowski said: “The Pantone Formula Guide is a reference or starting point to the Pantone Master Data Established in 2010. As with any print job, there are constant influencing factors from the paper color and surface properties - the ink layer thickness, the base inks from manufacturers, and the printing process. 

“Our guide is a reference to what the color should look like and the Pantone Master Digital Data is the true color. As Pantone wanted to incorporate and update our guides to ensure eco-friendliness and coatability, the latest Formula Guide reflects revised recipes based on inks that have these properties. As a result, you may see a slight variance of color from different print runs, but we strive to achieve the Pantone Color within tight tolerance to the Pantone Master Digital.”

Regarding the criticism about “homeopathic” amounts of base inks, she explained: “In order to achieve the specified spectral values with the new basic colors, Pantone at certain points had to use more components in very small quantities. However, in practice that should not be an issue, since printers will have their own recipes if they want to achieve small tolerances for a given standard.”

Stempkowski said that all Pantone Colors were now mixed from 11 base inks plus a colourless extender, a simplification on the previous 18 base inks. 

She also addressed the Reflex Blue change, and said: “As most every lithographic printer and ink expert has come across, Reflex Blue can be problematic in terms of its visual and technical properties.  Reflex Blue in its native form (and in the legacy basic ink specified by Pantone) makes use of red-shade alkali blue pigment. 

“Inks using this pigment have technical properties that cause bronzing (color shift from blue to purple as viewed at varying angles), low rub resistance, slow drying properties, excessive marking on press, and low lightfastness qualities. It is also a challenging to apply a coating to Reflex Blue because of potential interactivity between the coating and ink chemistry, which can cause varying levels of color shift within a print run.”

For this reason, in the latest Pantone guides, “Pantone makes use of one of the most-utilized ‘imitation’ Reflex Blue pigmentation blends, relying on a much better-behaved combination of Carbazole Violet and Phthalo Blue.  

“The suggested starting formula is described in the Pantone Formula Guide.  In fact, it is most likely that this pigment combination is used more frequently than the legacy Pantone alkali blue base color in most print, packaging and label work produced today,” she stated. 

Separately, in the world of Pantone alternatives, Hagen’s Better Brand Color Guide (BBCG) tutorial is now available in seven languages: English, Dutch, German, Swedish, simplified Chinese, French and Italian, with Spanish and Turkish versions also in the pipeline.