Yes, Now You'll Have to Pay to Use Certain Colors in Photoshop

Pantone colors may even disappear from old projects

  • In Adobe apps, Pantone colors will now require a monthly $15 subscription to access.
  • Pantone allows color matching between screen designs and printed objects. 
  • Designers may ditch Pantone altogether.
a variety of Pantone color palettes

Christina Rumpf / Unsplash

Pantone will now charge you a subscription fee to use some colors in apps like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.

Adobe and color-matching supremo Pantone have decided to remove support for Pantone colors from Adobe products. Existing projects that use those colors will, according to Pantone, "keep those color identities and information." However, according to evidence from the field, what actually happens is that those colors turn black. 

"Today, if you open a PSD (even one that's 20 years old) with an obscure PANTONE color, it will remove the color and make it black," says designer Iain Anderson on Twitter


Pantone is a system for color matching what you see on your screen with what the final printed article looks like. Pantone "owns" over 2,000 colors, and the idea is you can look at a color swatch in one of its iconic little booklets, specify that color in your digital file, and know that everything will come out looking right.

Many of these colors can be created by the standard CMYK color printing process, but a large handful are "spot colors," or special inks, can't. If you've ever picked up a magazine or book with a crazy fluorescent spot color on the cover, that could have been a Pantone color. 

"Pantone colors are important because they help you get a closer match between what you see on-screen and what you see in the real world. Most printers have Pantone color palettes as their main standard when making prints. Therefore, if you are making prints, this switch from free to paid can affect you greatly," freelance artist Richard Hsu told Lifewire via email.

For Adobe users who don't want to pay monthly for Pantone colors, they can simply pay once for an alternative app...

Adobe's Pantone support makes it easy to use those colors in projects. Pantone's FAQ says the companies are pulling the built-in libraries that support this because they're outdated. That may be true, but updating those libraries isn't the solution. The solution is to create a plugin that costs $15 per month to use, and if you don't, you're out of luck.

Designers are not happy. 

"After about 15 years in the industry, we were shocked to see that Adobe was removing Pantones from their software. We used Pantones for branding and logo design, but it has been very rare that a client has requested PMS values as full-color printing has become way more affordable and widespread," Mélissa Deschênes, creative director at Design de Plume, told Lifewire via email.

The Fix

I used to work as a graphic designer, and there are a few ways around this. If a client requests a specific Pantone color—for their logo, perhaps—you can always just call or email the printer and tell them to use it or otherwise specify it. And if the color isn't one of Pantone's special hues, then you can just use the CMYK code, and you should be good. Colors cannot be copyrighted, so unless you're designing a knockoff version of one of Pantone's color swatch books, you should be fine. 

Another option is to just ditch Pantone.

"We are also contemplating no longer using Pantone in our brands. Another alternative is to purchase an updated color book from Pantone directly to color match CMYK values [...] while only including the Pantone number in the guide, as opposed to using the actual Pantone shades across the materials," says Deschênes.

person using phone to compare colors using Pantone

Quinten Braem / Unsplash

When Pantone was built into Adobe products, it was an easy and attractive option. Now, who would bother unless their client specifies they have to? 

In that case, you could do the opposite and ditch Photoshop or Illustrator, then use a rival app that doesn't charge you to use Pantone colors. 

"For Adobe users who don't want to pay monthly for Pantone colors, they can simply pay once for an alternative app (such as Affinity Photo) and have unlimited access to them moving forward," graphic designer Nick Saporito told Lifewire via email.

This could turn out to be a case where Pantone's decision ends up hurting it instead of helping. The blacked-out colors in old Photoshop documents may be Pantone's fault or Adobe's fault, but the result makes Pantone less attractive to designers and perhaps to seem less reliable, too. But for designers in the future, it won't make that much difference.

Update 11/4/2022: Corrected a mistake in paragraph one.

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