Major problems with color shifts in any application using the new Pantone Plus Series libraries


A major difference between Adobe CS5 and CS6 is the update in color libraries provided by Pantone. The new Pantone Plus Series (PPS) has created a major issue with shifts in color, resulting in inconsistencies between color in old documents and ones created with the new libraries.

Three big changes were made during the creation of the Plus Series:

Pantone previously had two sets of Color Bridge libraries; one for the United States, and one for the rest of the world. With the addition of the new Pantone Plus Series, Pantone combined them into one universal set. Because there were slight variances between the two, you may notice some colors you’ve previously used being slightly different.

  1. In an effort to make on-screen display accurately represent ink colors, Pantone has changed the Lab definitions of their Spot Coated and Spot Uncoated colors.
  2. Pantone dropped the CMYK color definitions for their Spot Coated and Spot Uncoated color libraries. This change has been the most problematic.

Before Pantone Plus Series, PMS colors contained two definitions: Lab and CMYK.

 CMYK definitions are used when PMS colors are printed without actually using the spot ink intended. This definition provides the printer the CMYK values that most closely match the PMS color.

 Lab Definitions are used to produce the color on-screen.

Because Pantone solid colors are intended to be used only as spot ink, Pantone had decided to drop the CMYK definitions and only provide only Lab definitions. If a printer is printing with spot color, no problems will arise.

It is very common for proofs to be printed as CMYK builds, or designers use Pantone colors when they never intend to print with spot ink. This is where the problem begins.

Previously, when a PMS color was output without using spot inks, the computer would read the CMYK definition provided within the PMS color library and output the color using those values. This commonly resulted in a minor color shift, but the shift wasn’t enough to concern most designers.

With the Pantone Plus Series libraries, when a PPS color is output as a CMYK color, the computer has to convert the Lab color into CMYK values, then use those values while outputting. This process has resulted in both minor and major color shifts, sometimes resulting in a completely different color than intended. These shifts in color are unacceptable to designers, printers and their clients.

This change in processing has made it difficult for printers to achieve the same colors using the same Pantone colors in Pantone Plus Series libraries as they did with the Pantone Matching System libraries.


Pantone does not see this change as a problem. Instead, they expect designers to simply use their libraries as they were designed:

Direct from Pantone:

In general, if you are designing for spot color printing, you will use the PANTONE SOLID COATED or PANTONE SOLID UNCOATED libraries, depending on whether you are printing on coated or uncoated paper. The PANTONE COLOR BRIDGE libraries should be used IF AND ONLY IF you intend to output separations to simulate PANTONE colors, with values consistent with those published in the PANTONE COLOR BRIDGE guides.

Unfortunately, Pantone’s “solution” does not apply to documents that have already been created. There are no magical fixes for this issue, but a few workarounds have been discovered. Pantone supplied us with a White Paper on how to use the new libraries, which is available for download here. You will note that they do not refer to any issues you might have. After reading the White Paper, move on to our workarounds below and things should make more sense to you.


For designers who never intend to print with spot ink:

Pantone has included two color libraries in the Plus Series named Color Bridge Coated and Color Bridge Uncoated. These color libraries include CMYK definitions rather than Lab definitions for PPS colors. Designers who printing soley in CMYK should only use these color libraries. These colors will not convert to spot colors in your application and therefore must always be used only as process colors.

For designers who arent interested in using Pantones 336 new colors:

If you simply want your libraries back to the way they were, and never intend to use any of the new 336 colors added in the Plus Series, you can load the old CS5 Pantone Matching System libraries and delete the CS6 Pantone Plus libraries. Adobe has provided a tutorial on how to do this here for both Illustrator and InDesign. They even provide a zip file of the old libraries for you to download.

Note: When you create a file and save it, the colors used within that file are embedded. This means that if you created a document using Pantone Plus colors, saved it, closed the document, replaced the new libraries with the old ones, and reopened that file, you did NOT fix your problem. Although you have deleted the Plus libraries, the colors were embedded in your document. For the same reason, you can’t backsave from CS6 to CS5 and expect that to fix your problem.

How to fix color definitions youve already used:

If you’ve already used Pantone Plus solid colors in your document and have no desire to recreate that document, you can fix the color definitions manually in two ways.

  1. You can create a new swatch using one of the Pantone Plus Bridge colors, delete your unwanted swatch, and when prompted, replace the unwanted color with the new Bridge color.
  2. If InDesign doesn’t allow you to delete your unwanted color swatch:
    • Get the desired CMYK values from a Color Bridge book, or by creating a swatch from the Color Bridge library.
    • Convert your unwanted swatch by double-clicking it in the swatch pallet, then change the color mode to CMYK.
    • Input your desired CMYK values.

We will post more about this issue as we learn more solutions. If you have questions about how this will impact your workflow, please do not hesitate to contact your salesperson. Be sure to subscribe to our blog or become a fan on facebook for updates.


About Mallory MacDermott

Marketing Manager at Printing Partners, Inc. Indianapolis, Indiana.
This entry was posted in Color, Production & Design Tips and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Major problems with color shifts in any application using the new Pantone Plus Series libraries

  1. Trish Logan says:

    Excellent Article!
    You provided a good service today.

  2. Greg Bonnell says:

    Thank you so much for this clearly written, informative article. It completely cleared up my confusion about CS6 and Pantone Plus. Bravo!

  3. Roberta Barton says:


    We use indesign with smartstream to impose our customer supplied PDF’s for print. Since upgrading to CS6 all these documents are printing washed out and totally different to the CS5 versions. Your above comments only relate to ‘designing’ in CS6.. could you explain why a pre-designed PDF document is printing so differently from one version to the other? – and is there a way around this? Our customers are rather large branded clients who need a consistency in their corporate colours, the only way to be consistent so far is to stick with CS5 which seems rather daft!

    • Roberta,

      Without seeing your files I can’t say for certain what is happening. If your client is not using any Pantone colors and is just using CMYK builds for their colors, then there is a different issue. We don’t use SmartStream in our workflow, so I can’t speak to what might be going on.

      Any file that uses spot colors or was designed using spot colors from the Pantone Plus Series could be rendering incorrectly. The problems with the color shift aren’t because of CS6, it is because of the mis-use of the Pantone Plus colors.

      As Printers we have to educate clients to use the correct Pantone Plus Series Library depending on how they intent to print. Is it a Process (use the Plus Bridge Libraries) or Spot (use the Plus Solid Libraries) Color printing job.

      Good Luck, I hope you find the solution, sorry we couldn’t be of more help.

  4. momo white says:

    Sorry I am still confused about the whole things. I picked PMS287 from old and new Panton swatchs. Then I converted the both color to CMYK, old one shows 100/68/0/12 and the plus shows 100/86/20/12. They are totally different colours but the same PMS numbers. What am I supposed to do with this difference? We shouldn’t use plus libraries at all for anything has to be converted to CMYK? or old PMS287 is the right colour? I have read this over and over but still don’t understand what I am supposed to do here. Please help!
    Thank you

    • Momo,

      You are right, when you convert them they have different CMYK values. This is what is causing the problem with the new libraries.

      If you are going to print using spot colors, you can use the new Pantone Plus Solid Color Libraries.

      BUT, if you are going to print using CMYK, you should either use the old PMS color converted to CMYK or use the Pantone Plus Bridge Color (coated or uncoated depending on what paper you are printing on). The Bridge colors when converted to CMYK should match the old Pantone colors.

      The Pantone Plus Solid Color Libraries should only be used if you are NOT printing CMYK. If you are printing in CMYK you CAN use the Pantone Plus Bridge Libraries. The Bridge Libraries will convert to the correct CMYK values.

      Just one more caution, a few of the Pantone Plus Bridge Colors have had their CMYK values altered. Pantone used to have different libraries for the United States and Europe and some of the colors didn’t match in their CMYK values. Pantone has now eliminated the US and Europe libraries and they now have just one for the whole world.

      I hope this helps. Good Luck!

  5. jason says:

    hey there
    what to do in InDesign 6 (maybe Illustrator too, i havent checked) when you want to create a new color swatch that is from the 4-Color Process Guide?

    PANTONE+CMYK coated & uncoated options are listed in the New Color Swatch drop down, but not just the 4-color process… can i load an old library to have access to those?

    of course i could just plug in the color values listed in the 4-color process, but this proves to be a problem on a number of levels, not the least of which is its a time waster.

    thanks so much

    • Jason,

      The New PANTONE+CMYK Library and the Old PMS PROCESS Library are basically the same thing. They are a collection of tints of color created using CMYK values. The only way to get the CMYK values in InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop is to place a color from the library in your color palette and then change the Color Mode to CMYK.

      This is the same if you are using the new PANTONE PLUS library or the old PMS library. Once you do this, you have access to the CMYK value for that color.

      I hope this helps.

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  9. Mike Martin says:

    Thanks Mallory! – a very well written explanation. I have already forwarded this on to a couple of my clients who use spots.

  10. Joan Wagner says:

    I tried your last step. I created a new Pantone Bridge color and the mixes are correct, but I could not delete the original Pantone color with the Lab mixes. Any ideas?

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