The Trouble with Pantone Books

“PMS chip-color books can be buggy.” With just these six words, Pamela touched-off a fury of comments in my Print Production Professionals Group. “There have been times when we will lay five PMS books side-by-side to show that a particular color chip will not match from book-to-book.”

Yes, but Pamela, this does not mean they are “buggy” (is that a technical term BTW?). Here’s part of the problem…

“Our Pantone books are close to 10 years old.
 As long as you keep your swatch pages out of bright light, the colors should be fine to use for many years. But if Pantone wants us to replace our swatchbooks once a year, they should drop their prices.” Mark, another group member, was clearly not amused.

Granted, Pantone books do not come cheap. And yours truly does not replace them every year, either—who has the money? I keep my books in a nice, dark cozy drawer and they stay true to color for a long time, but…

Oh yes, there is a but. You might think that PMS 362 is always exactly the same color, 20 years ago as it is now. Wrong, my friend.

A new Pantone book is not only there in case your issue has faded or to update you on the new colors Pantone has added…Pantone reserves the right to adjust some of your tried-and-true colors from year to year.

I learned this the hard way on a press check a few years ago when my printer’s PMS 362 did not match mine. We compared our Pantone books and—wouldn’t you know it—the green was different.

My printer filled me in on the “Pantone reserves the right to…” fact.

It was news to me. Annoying as this may be, it is not a case of “buggy” PMS books.

Sabine Lenz is the founder of, the first online paper database and community specifically designed for paper specifiers.

Growing up in Germany, Sabine started her design career in Frankfurt, before moving to Australia and then the United States. She has worked on design projects ranging from corporate identities to major road shows and product launches. From start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, her list of clients included Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Deutsche Bank, IBM and KPMG.

Seeing designers struggle worldwide to stay current with new papers and paper trends inspired Sabine to create PaperSpecs, an independent and comprehensive Web-based paper database and weekly e-newsletter. She is also a speaker on paper issues and the paper industry. Some refer to her lovingly as the "paper queen" who combines her passion for this wonderful substrate called paper with a hands-on approach to sharing her knowledge. 

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  • Geoff Zivic

    We promote ourselves as a top line printing company, and in doing so, purchase new Pantone Books every year. Yes, they are expensive, but, our customer base demands and expects it.

    But that is not my point.
    My beef is with the new layout Pantone started using two years ago. Who came up with this goofy system? You must look up the same number twice, in order to find it! They say the "colors" are in order, but that is not the case either. 472 Beige is at the back of the book and a very similar 7411 is near the front cover.

    Pantone, if your listening, put the numbers back in order!!!

  • Michael Jahn

    Okay, well, you KNOW i am a fan of all things Sabine, but may I play the part of "grumpy ole color geek" for a few lines here ( please, do not take offence, anyone ! )

    I think it is a bit simplistic – if not unfair – to suggest that the reason Pantone 362 has changed was because "“Pantone reserves the right to.."

    in 1964 we mostly printed on Publication stock and at 133 line screen. Even if I printed at 100%, that green would have been quite a bit more dirty and yellow since the paper we printed on back then was far more grey and yellow that what we print on today.

    We do not print on the same paper or using the same screening, so, for SURE, and tint simulations will change a LOT.

    Even keeping your books in a cool dark place will NOT stop certain colors from shifting – so, yes, if you are need exact color, you need new books and probably you should invest in a spectrophotometer. Do you know the appropriate Lab value for PMS 362 ?

    Hint – do not try to use Adobe Photoshop to come up with that answer !

    Oh – and which book are you using – or comparing it too ?

    Pantone Color Bridge Coated or Pantone Formula Guide Solid Coated ?

    And what light were you comparing your books under ? Some pressrooms use D65 lights so they can better see yellow as opposed to D50.

    These books are named "Color GUIDES for a reason – if you need to match, you need to tell them "i expect this Lab value within 5 deltas – on stock XYZ – i can absolutely tell you that all your print projects are not on the same color stock as Pantone guide books were printed on – and we all know how much paper color effects color. RIGHT ?

    In any Pantone book, there three or more sheets of notes that describe how the books were printed – everyone would do well to read that. In the world of package design, they perform ink draw downs – IMPORTANT !

  • Brian Rothschild

    Not only all that, but, when was the last time you saw anybody keeping their PMS swatch books in a light tight holder or carrier.

    Can you say "UV Rays" …..sure, I knew you could.

  • Mark

    The books are buggy! As a professional I require my tools to be both accurate, efficient for the work and durable for continued use. Pantone is not always consistent with color form book to book even printed in the same year. In additon, they have changed the stock to a lighter weight stock that is not very durable. And last but not least, they scrambled the order of the colors. The books are no longer efficient for a printer to use. Unfortuantely they have a monopoloy in the North AMerican market.

  • Pressman

    The real question is how does Pantone print its color books. I have been told from people in the ink industry that Pantone has a specially made letterset press designed just to print spot color books. Letterset /dry offset does not use any water in the printing process and it will reproduce colors with a much deeper tone and ink film thickness than offset.
    If this is the method used to produce the spot color books then how can you expect the commercial printing industry that use offset printing presses to match the colors exactly. You can’t…
    Pantone books are only a guide and if a client wants and exact color they should be prepared to pay for the time and materials it would take to mix ink that will give them the color they want on a specific press and paper.

  • Pressman

    Printing Pantone metallic inks.
    A lot of people think you can just ink one unit of a press with metallic gold and it will give the desired result. Sometimes this will work on white gloss but if your client want to print on dark uncoated paper it’s going to look awful. What you have to do is double hit the inks… which make two exact printing plates and print the same image on two units in perfect registration. This is the only way you will get good looking metallic ink. Which is what the customer expected as they looks at the PMS color guide.

  • David Scott

    I’m wondering why they would want to adjust how PMS 362 looks? Why not just add a 4-digit color. Like the article stated, what if that is somebody’s logo, and now it’s no longer available because the book is different. I’m not sure exactly what the change was. Did they change the proportions of mixing inks or were the tints used in the mixing inks changed, so that now 362 looks different? – David Scott

  • Scott

    I too, have seen a difference in color from book to book, regardless of age.
    The biggest problem I have faced lately as a pressman is the fact that a
    customer pre-approves a job based on a color-proof "printed" on a digital
    "press", which give the appearance of a coated Pantone swatch, regardless
    of stock finish. Apples & Oranges. But hey, That`s why I make the big
    bucks, right?
    Scott,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,central Ohio.

  • CPS Gumpert

    In a webinar I learned that every so often they will also change up the CMYK breakdowns and therefore the pantone swatches to accommodate for the updated ink formulation advancements for popular printers. The brand new PMS books are tough because many colors don’t match the older swatches at all. So yes be careful! You really need to be able to explain the ink/print process to very particular customers so they understand how/why variations can occur: substrate, printer, ink, etc. I find they are more understanding of slight variations if they have some knowledge about the process and are a part of the choices for paper, etc as the project progresses.