In November of 2022, Adobe and Pantone parted ways. The ultimate color couple split because Pantone got greedy and demanded Adobe pay up for raiding their swatch stash for so many years. Adobe snapped, packing Pantone’s libraries in a sad cardboard box and tossing them to the curb. Now, we’re left to pick up the pieces.
I’m sure you reminisce about the good old days when you could head over to the swatch panel, click the trust hamburger menu, and open up the Pantone Solid Coated library. You probably even knew the trick with the recolor artwork panel that allowed you to convert [CMYK to Pantone] in a flash.
None of that works anymore, and our jobs depend on it, so what are we logo designers to do? If you’re loaded and have a weird fetish for monthly subscriptions, you could always use Pantone’s extension for Illustrator, Pantone Connect. My sense of justice won’t let me pony up for the service. Instead, I say we reclaim what was stolen from us and get our Pantone swatches back!
Here are the three best ways to do that
Adobe used to provide the Pantone color libraries in their older versions — and they still do! All you have to do is install Adobe Illustrator V27.0 or older, and you can still use the color books. I’ll show you how to install an older version in just a second, but I can already hear you saying, “But then I don’t get all the exciting features from new releases!” Alright, I hear you, but the beautiful thing about installing the old versions is that it gives you the actual Pantone color library files. If you move those files to the correct location in new versions, you will still have access to Pantone libraries in your fancy new versions of Illustrator!
Ok, so here’s how to install an old version:
1. Open the Adobe Creative Cloud App
2. Click the Apps tab at the top of the window
3. Find Illustrator in your list of apps and then click the 3 dots icon on the right.
4. Click Other Versions
5. Choose V27.0 or older
Now, you can either continue to use the old Illustrator version for your Pantone color needs, or you can steal the libraries from the old version and add them to the new version!
Here’s how to add Pantone libraries to newer versions of Illustrator
1. Go to your applications folder and find the old version of Illustrator. It will be Adobe Illustrator 2022 or older.
2. Go to the Illustrator application folder > Presets > en_US (this colder could be different depending on your language settings) > Swatches > Color Books.
3. Copy “PANTONE+ Solid Coated.acb” and “PANTONE+ Solid Uncoated.acb”
4. Go to the newer version of Illustrator in your applications folder and paste the color libraries into the same folder as the old version.
5. Open up the swatch panel in Illustrator and go to Open Swatch Library > Color Books > PANTONE+ Solid Coated or PANTONE+ Solid Uncoated.
I recommend keeping a copy of these Pantone color libraries in an easy-to-access location so that you don’t have to go digging every time you update Illustrator.
Note: The default color libraries included in older versions of Illustrator do not include all the newest Pantone colors. Using these libraries will limit your options to an older, smaller set of Pantone colors.
The benefits of using this first method for getting Pantone colors into newer versions of Illustrator are basically just putting things back to how they were. You’ll access colors through the swatch panel like you’re used to. Since the color books are restored, you can even use the recolor panel to automatically convert RGB or CMYK to Pantone.
You didn’t hear it from me, but some people have shared the newer color libraries online. You can find them here:
Follow the same steps from earlier, and you’ll have a much newer set of Pantone swatches to choose from than the old Illustrator defaults.
This workaround also requires that you download an older version of Illustrator, so go ahead and do that following the steps above. This method is going to make use of .ase files. ASE means “Adobe Swatch Exchange,” and it’s a format that can be read by all the Adobe programs. Typically, a designer will want to save a library of the brand colors for a specific client or project. They will save their current swatches as an ASE file to be loaded into any project for that brand. It’s pretty handy. We will hack the ASE a little to make our own Pantone library.
Follow these steps
1. Open a blank document in an old version of Illustrator that still has the Pantone color libraries.
2. Go to the swatches panel and click the menu. Choose “Select all Unused Colors” and then click the trash can to delete all of the swatches in the blank document. If any remain, highlight them and click the trash icon (you cannot delete the no-fill swatch or the registration swatch).
3. Open up the swatch panel in Illustrator, click the menu icon in the upper right corner of the window, and go to Open Swatch Library > Color Books > PANTONE+ Solid Coated or PANTONE+ Solid Uncoated.
4. Shift-click to select every Pantone swatch in the library and drag them into the Swatches panel.
5. Click the Swatch panel menu and choose “Save Swatch Library as ASE…”
6. You can name the library whatever you want, but I recommend calling it something like Pantone Coated.
Now that the ASE is saved, you can open it in any version of Illustrator or in other Adobe tools like InDesign or Photoshop. Simply go to the swatch panel menu in a newer version of Illustrator and click Open Swatch Library > Other Library. Navigate to where you save the ASE and open it.
As I noted in the last method, you should definitely save these ASE files to a memorable and easy-to-access location.
The benefits of this method are that ASE files are just a little bit easier to load than moving color library files from one obscure system folder to another. They can also be opened in InDesign and Photoshop, so you’re increasing your access to the Pantone colors across the whole Adobe suite using this method. Additionally, you can customize what’s in an ASE file to only include specific subsets of swatches if that’s what you’re into.
As I mentioned in the intro to this post, designers were outraged when Adobe and Pantone split. Not many people were more vocal than the renowned British artist Stuart Semple from Culture Hustle. He got so steamed about the whole thing that he made an open-source version of Pantone-ish colors and gave them away for free on his website.
Here is how to use the “Freetone” colors from Culture Hustle.
You may be wondering how you can use a Pantone knockoff in actual projects. Well, it’s pretty simple. These colors are just clones of Pantone libraries with the Freetone name slapped onto the beginning — the numbers are the same as Patnone. If you use one of these swatches in a project, all you need to do is change the swatch name to “PANTONE” at the beginning before you export, and your printer will not know the difference. They will choose the correct Pantone ink for your print jobs.
Honestly, I think Stuart simply made an ASE and changed the color names. If you like sticking it to the man and want to show solidarity with Stuart and Culture Hustle, you can grab this free, open-source alternative. The only other benefit is that he’s included spot colors for his unique ink products in there as well.
Lastly, suppose you don’t feel that any of this is ethical, and you’re worried about the Pantone legal hammer dropping on your head. In that case, you can always use these online Pantone converters and specify the Pantone color you want for your client or printer.
Since Pantone and Adobe broke up, it’s become so much more difficult to get Pantone information for colors. Swatch automatically converts your colors to the best Pantone match. Pantone is BACK in Illustrator, without monthly fees!