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Pantone and free software

By Nathan Willis on November 21, 2005 (8:00:00 AM)

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Over the years, I've observed that for every favorable review written about the GIMP or other free graphics applications, there is another review denouncing it as useless because "it doesn't support Pantone." Although I've accepted this is how the universe works, it's worth noting that the unfavorable articles are generally accompanied by some misconceptions about what Pantone is and isn't used for, and the legality of supporting it.

Misconceptions about the purpose and usage of Pantone are to be expected, since very few graphic designers are regular Linux users (much less coders). The legal issues, on the other hand, are probably kept intentionally murky by Pantone to discourage others from competing. Let's take a look at both.

We don't buy colors, we buy peace of mind

Pantone's bread and butter is the Pantone Matching System¨(PMS), an ink-matching system widely used by designers and printers for color reproduction. To use it, you must buy a Pantone swatch book -- a printed and bound collection of cards containing hundreds upon hundreds of colored rectangles labeled with identification numbers. When you design your business card or garage sale poster and need an eye-catching mauve to really make it stand out, you find the color you want in the swatch book and give its number to the printer when you drop off your finished design.

The printer looks up the number in his Pantone instructions, and mixes a special ink for it with Pantone's recipe (which includes inks outside traditional RGB color models, including neons and metallic finishes). If everything goes according to plan, the finished product and the card you chose at the beginning look the same.

Nowhere in this process is special behavior required of the software you used to create your design. Nowhere does the phrase "Pantone compatible" or "Pantone compliant" arise. That's because the crux of the system is the printed swatch books and the printer's instructions. Applications such as QuarkXPress and Adobe Photoshop may have a list of Pantone numbered colors available through their built-in color chooser, but they also warn you that what you see on screen is not guaranteed to match the printed output, and refer you to the printed swatch book.

It's also important to note that Pantone Matching is for spot colors only, or colors that don't blend with the other elements on the page. You can certainly choose pretty colors out of the swatch book to paint with, but you've then left the world of spot colors and entered CMYK. Pantone Matching is no longer involved, and you must rely on calibrated displays and printers to match colors.

That said, many people choose colors from Pantone books even when working in CMYK because the books are a good reference; using them yields far fewer surprises than picking colors from an RGB monitor.

Colorful language

Think back to that Photoshop color chooser. It presents a list of numbered colors; when you select one, Photoshop changes the active "painting color" to an RGB value that is as close a match as possible. "If that's all that happens," we wonder, "can't the GIMP, Inkscape, and Scribus do the same?"

In theory, yes. If you search the Web, you can find homemade colors and palettes for many graphics apps that refer back to the Pantone numbers. The holdup is that an application that packages or ships a color palette derived from the Pantone swatches runs the risk of legal action from Pantone.

Exactly what legal action Pantone would take is unclear, but its "About Us" Web page claims that "an unauthorized claim by third parties either as principals or agents, inferring that any referenced color or color system is the same as, or equivalent to, a color standard or color system of Pantone, may be a violation of Pantone's proprietary rights" -- without being specific. Is it patents? Copyrights? Trademarks?

It seems as if the company is being intentionally unclear; certainly by doing so, Pantone can wave a bigger, scarier legal club and chill a wider variety of competition. A Groklaw discussion raises the question of whether any of Pantone's patents apply to the color matching system itself. It is widely agreed that colors and numbers cannot be copyrighted or patented -- though perhaps Pantone would claim that its collection of color swatches as a whole constitutes a "database" which could be copyrighted, much like the phone book.

Certainly the simplest claim would be trademark misappropriation or dilution towards someone who produced a color palette marketed as compatible with Pantone's. This is what prevents open source products from including built-in Pantone color choosers.

Pantone has nothing to lose by licensing use of the Pantone palette free-of-charge, since the company makes its money from printers' supplies and book sales (which aren't cheap, and you are encouraged to replace the books annually to ward off fading and long-term color shifts). Pantone probably has some additional customers to gain by allowing free software to use its technology. But the company doesn't appear interested.

Color me bad

So marketing your own full-blown replacement for Pantone Matching is out of the question, and shipping a palette of colors clearly mimicking the Pantone color swatches puts you at risk for a lawsuit. What's an open source designer to do?

Fortunately, Pantone Matching relies almost entirely on the swatch books to function. Like the secret agents of conflicts past, the only reason your color message gets decoded at all when it reaches the print shop is that you both have the same code book. With a Pantone book in hand, you can tag your designs with Pantone numbers to your heart's content without crossing any legal lines.

Specifically, anything drawn in scalable vector graphics (SVG) format has fill and stroke color XML attribute; with a program such as Inkscape, you can place tags with your desired Pantone numbers into the drawing itself. Thankfully, graphics juggernaut Adobe is a big proponent of SVG, and most print shops will accept it along with Freehand and Illustrator files.

Scribus can do two-color and three-color separations, although it does not build in those functions at this stage. To use them, read the Scribus wiki, follow the spot color tutorial, and output your final product in PDF/X-3 format -- a stripped-down refinement of PDF optimized for professional printing. It's probably obvious, but one-color designs do not need separations.

When you reach four colors and up, however, CMYK and not spot-color support becomes the issue. For that, there is a GIMP-CMYK plugin in development, and Imagemagick and libTIFF support CMYK (with color profiles), but I would not rule out being nice to your printer and asking if their folks would convert the images themselves. In the real world, you'll make multiple trips to the printer for revisions and hard proofs, so you might as well make friends.

Pantone's cloud of legal menace is relevant only to vendors; users have never needed permission or license fees to tell a print shop to output their letterhead in a particular color. I am skeptical of the broad "proprietary rights" claim asserted at Pantone's Web site, but the niche market is so small that I doubt we will ever see a good test case go to trial. If that does happen, the fallout will be interesting to watch. In the meantime, free software users need only educate themselves to work around the inconvenience.

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on Pantone and free software

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Pantone support not necessary

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 22, 2005 03:59 AM
I'm a graphic artist by trade... and I can tell you that my aversion to using the gimp in the past was never its lack of Pantone support, but its lack of CMYK and common clipboard support.

Though I haven't since tested the gimp in a couple years I understand that it has since managed to get CMYK support.

Sure, Photoshop may have support for spot colors (pantone) but I can tell you... no self respecting graphic artist uses Photshop for that. Instead, they use Illustrator or Freehand for that purpose.

My only real beef with The Gimp, and unfortunately one that doesn't sound like it will have a genuine fix any time soon (apparently as a result of inconsistencies in X11) is a common clipboard between The Gimp and other applications. I've tried to use Adobe Illustrator (in OS X) alongside the Gimp, and it was brutal.

If you're a developer working on The Gimp, please don't concern yourself with this nonsense about supporting Pantone. I can honestly tell you, nobody cares. If a vector graphics app was the topic, only THEN would this be an issue, but as long as we're talking of raster graphics, you need not bother yourself with trying to support pantone.

Instead... please PLEASE try to find solutions to the common clipboard issue I mentioned. If this issue were addressed along with a handful of miscellaneous interface issues, The Gimp would start making some MAJOR inroads into Adobe's Photoshop territory.

I would be happy to act as a consultant on this issue for any individuals working on the Gimp project.

Kelly McNeill
www.osviews.com
kelly at osviews dot com

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Re:Pantone support not necessary

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 22, 2005 04:14 AM
Instead... please PLEASE try to find solutions to the common clipboard issue I mentioned. If this issue were addressed along with a handful of miscellaneous interface issues, The Gimp would start making some MAJOR inroads into Adobe's Photoshop territory.

I seriously doubt that. Adobe's image suite is a costs a pittance for professions. You'll need all the plug-ins and cross application compatibility too. Again, a professional isn't interested in Stallman's issue of freedom, they have to deliver a product and have the tools available now.

Those that aren't in the trade will continue to use their pirated warez anyway.

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Re:Pantone support not necessary

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 23, 2005 01:37 AM
a professional isn't interested in Stallman's issue of freedom, they have to deliver a product and have the tools available now.

A professional might be interested in the better support that you can get with free software.



Those that aren't in the trade will continue to use their pirated warez anyway.

I find this comment offensive. I'm not in "the trade", and I do not use pirated software. I use free software.

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Re:Pantone support not necessary

Posted by: micheas on November 28, 2005 08:22 PM
The interesting thing is that the Grandparent post has a point. But not the one that was inteneded.

Yes, professionals are more interested in results than freedom. But, a large percentage of animation houses now use cinepaint (a fork of the GIMP) not so much because of cost but because they could rip it apart and make it do the job THE ANIMATORS need done not the job the software vender wants to do. (This is in a way what RMS really wanted out of software, not the $0, but to rip the software apart and make it do the job at hand.)

When you compare GIMP vs. Photoshop, did you look at it's integration with maya, renderman, and a host of custom animation apps? Probably not, I didn't, but making a spinning globe from a map is much easier with GIMP than Photoshop.

Some issues that Cinepaint/GIMP have in competing with Photoshop are - lack of equivilent to flight check (one printing error is all it takes to cover the $500 cost.); Lack of integration with Illustrator, (although scribus may come into the fold); the photo retouching tools in the recent versions of photoshop make photoshop 7 and earlier downright painful in comparison. (and I would say that the GIMP is probably some where around photoshop 6. A great piece of software, but not Photoshope CS or later); lack of equivilant fonts to what Adobe throws in with Photoshop. I am sure that I am missing some, but It would be great to be able to pop from film mode to print mode and print mode would be CYMK plus arbitary spot colors. film mode would be 16 bit/per channel color.

This may just be a matter of time for someone else to find that they need to extend photoshop in a way that justifies extending the gimp/cinepaint instead of extending photoshop.

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"common clipboard"

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 24, 2005 12:24 AM
> common clipboard support

I guess you are talking about Gimp on the MacOS X, which I think runs inside an X Server at the moment. Hopefully this problem will be solved by the new MacOS-native GTK+:
<a href="http://www.imendio.com/press/show/16" title="imendio.com">http://www.imendio.com/press/show/16</a imendio.com>

Murray Cumming

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Good job, Nathan.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 22, 2005 04:26 AM
Rarely do I find such a well-written article on Newsforge. Nice to see something that stands out from the usual "10 command-line tricks that every n00b should know" and "Will Linux *ever* have a prettier window manager than Windows" tripe. Good work.

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Re:Good job, Nathan.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 22, 2005 09:44 AM
Exactly! This article was great after reading that shit article about Magnatune. Bravo!

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Clarifications about Scribus

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 22, 2005 04:38 AM

Some clarifications:



  • Scribus in version 1.3.1+ can support device-N colors aka spot colors in both printing, EPS export and PDF export. There is, in theory, no limit to the number of spot colors in a file, just your budget<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:) This is done entirely within Scribus with no external support and needs no manipulation with other applications. That they are conformant to the published specs is easily proven by the ease in which spot color PDF and EPS are imported into other professional pre-press tools like Enfocus PitStop.

  • Within Scribus all colors, including spot colors can be named as wished by end users. These spot colors can be defined in both RGB and CMYK color spaces.

  • Spot Colors!=Pantone (tm) The concept of spot colors, more properly called deviceN, themselves are part of the published Postscript and PDF standards as released by Adobe. DeviceN has been a part of the PDF spec since PDF 1.3 (Acrobat 4.x). This is neither a Pantone (tm) copyright nor patented.


There has been much FUD and mis-information spread about the concept of spot colors and F/OSS. The high level of supprt for deviceN in Scribus amply shows it can be done without infringing any patents or copyrights, however valid or invalid those might be.


Put me down as respectfully asking journalists on and off-line to contact developers in advance of publication. We can assure facts are correct and up to date. This spoiled an otherwise clear and concise story.



Cordially,


Peter


Scribus Team

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Re:Clarifications about Scribus

Posted by: Nathan Willis on November 22, 2005 05:17 AM
Peter, I don't see how any of those three points is contradicted in the story.

I guess I'm sorry if you felt the story was "spoiled" somehow, but I don't see what content you feel constitutes "FUD" or "misinformation" and I didn't make assertions in disagreement with your points of clarification.

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Re:Clarifications about Scribus

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 22, 2005 07:33 AM
No, I meant FUD in other stories, not yours.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:-)

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Spot Colours

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 22, 2005 09:12 AM
It's also important to note that Pantone Matching is for spot colors only, or colors that don't blend with the other elements on the page. You can certainly choose pretty colors out of the swatch book to paint with, but you've then left the world of spot colors and entered CMYK.

Well that's not quite true - there's nothing stopping you doing halftone with spot colours.

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Re:Spot Colours

Posted by: Nathan Willis on November 22, 2005 10:30 AM
Well, I think that's splitting hairs to a degree, but maybe the sentence needed an extra word for clarity: It's also important to note that Pantone Matching is designed for spot colors only....

I mean, there's nothing stopping you from doing five-color printing either, and in fact you see that done every now and then, but that's not how normal usage works.

Actually, I mentioned metallic inks in the article copy; before someone else brings it up let add that you do sometimes see more than four plates when such special effects are required. Or when you're an art student and you just like to use different ink plates. But I digress. As long as normal people come away with the basic idea of Pantone Matching, I should be happy.

Nate

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Did Jack Valenti write this article?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 22, 2005 03:26 PM
It is widely agreed that colors and numbers cannot be copyrighted or patented -- though perhaps Pantone would claim that its collection of color swatches as a whole
constitutes a "database" which could be copyrighted, much like the phone book.




wtf?



While the article is informative and well-written and welcome, spreading fud, outright lies, disinformation, or misinformation due to a bias or even lack of knowledge of what one writes about is not welcome.



Unless I'm mistaken, the effort in the last couple of years to "fix" <a href="http://www.bitlaw.com/copyright/database.html#Feist" title="bitlaw.com">Feist</a bitlaw.com> did not succeed. So what caused this faulty idea that telephone books are protected by copyright, I don't have a clue. Perhaps the author is spending too many nights in too many pubs drinking with too many of the subjects of his interviews?



Copyright, patent and trademark law is already broken enough. No need for the author to break it further.



Better background if you start at the top of the article linked, <a href="http://www.bitlaw.com/copyright/database.html" title="bitlaw.com">here</a bitlaw.com>



Otherwise, as I said, the article was informative and welcome.

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There is more to color matching than just Pantone

Posted by: Leopardi on November 22, 2005 05:11 PM
In particular, printers themselves must set up and calibrate their various display and printing devices.
See eg. <a href="http://www.multimatch.biz/" title="multimatch.biz">
Multimatch,</a multimatch.biz> which does work in this area (and for whom I did a small amount of consulting work once).


The <a href="http://www.color.org/" title="color.org">International Color Consortium</a color.org> defines profiles for color management systems which are used for this purpose.


<a href="http://software.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=05/03/08/1712218" title="newsforge.com">Your own article on color management</a newsforge.com>
gives a good overview, and yet it is not referred to from this article.
It would help if you could add a paragraph clarifying how Pantone and color management are related.


Some of your readers may also benefit from taking a look at
<a href="http://www.color.org/ss84.pdf" title="color.org">"An Introduction to Appearance Analysis"</a color.org> by Richard Harold.

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Re:There is more to color matching than just Panto

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 23, 2005 03:00 AM
even thats not really matching, its just going for consistancy, and sometimes not even that. absolute colormeteric rendering intent is rarely used. (see color.org for details)

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Spot Colour

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 23, 2005 10:30 AM
Hi

First, regarding the GIMP, the real issue has mostly been the lack of CMYK support and colour management. Spot colours don't really make that much sense in a bitmap image editor anyway - they're mostly used in vector graphics and desktop publishing.

On spot colours, I think it's worth re-emphasising Peter's point: Spot colour support is not the same as PANTONE support.

Here's my take on the matter:

It's actually generally possible to produce a 1 colour job in an application with no spot colour or PANTONE support. You simply output it as greyscale, and tell your printer the PANTONE ink number to use. After all, on the press all it means is that they use a different ink instead of black.

Extending from that principle, if your application supports spot colours but has no built-in support for PANTONE, you can still make (eg) a 2 colour ("1 spot") job. You enter two new spot colours called, say, "my dark red" and "colour 1" into the application's colour list and design with them. When submitting the job, all you need to do is tell the printer which inks to use for "colour 1" and "my dark red", probably be speciying PANTONE ink names. If you name the colours by their PANTONE names, then you usually won't even need to tell the printer that much.

That's what many DTP users did until very recently. Here at work, the users still enter PANTONE colours into the colour picker by hand when they want to use a colour, and that's with QuarkXPress on Mac OS 9. That was the long-standing mainstay of prepress for a very long time.

That's also why Franz's addition of spot colour support in Scribus 1.3 is so darn cool. I'm going to be doing a few spot colour house ads for my employer, the POST Newspapers (Australia), in Scribus soon, which is an exciting thing to be able to do.

Anyway, it doesn't hurt if your application has a built-in list of PANTONE spot colours, but it's not really necessary. I only understood this recently. All you really need is spot colour support, and you can often get away without that for one-colour jobs. What you really need is the swatch book, as this article has so clearly pointed out. That book contains samples of the colours, each with a PANTONE name and a colour code that you can enter into your application, and it's that book that costs the money.

A spot colour in a DTP app consists of two things - a colour name, and a display tone. The name is what the printer uses to identify the plate - and if you've used the name specified by a major ink matching system like PANTONE, they can probably just pick the right ink without needing to be told anything extra. The display tone tells the application what colour to use to approximate the real spot colour ink when working with pure RGB or CMYK colour spaces. It's not actually used when the job goes to press. Colour management is useful for making this "display tone" better approximate the real colour you'll get in print, but that's all it is - an approximation to help you when designing, proofing, etc.

Nothing stops you making a spot colour that shows up bright green in the application, and giving it a name that suggests the use of a deep red PANTONE spot ink, or telling the printer to use a metallic-looking silver ink.

It's also worth noting that spot colours can use other ink schemes. You could negotiate with your printer to mix inks to your specifications, or you might have inks from a different supplier that you wish to use. If that ink maker has supplied you with a swatch book then you get the same "looks the same in front of me as in print" effect as with PANTONE, though you probably have a much smaller range of colours to choose from.

So long as the printer knows what inks to use and you know how they'll look, you're all set.

--
Craig Ringer

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PANTONE on Linux

Posted by: arahne on November 28, 2005 01:52 AM
Just one clarification:

Linux users aren't completely excluded from from using PANTONE(R) colors. Company Arahne develops a textile CAD called ArahWeave, which includes support for Pantone for fashion and home. We pay a license to PANTONE, so you can download it for free, as part of our demo software. Download it from here:

<a href="http://www.arahne.si/download.html/" title="arahne.si">http://www.arahne.si/download.html/</a arahne.si>

For a quick overview of ArahWeave's handling of color, have a look at this page:

<a href="http://www.arahne.si/colors.html/" title="arahne.si">http://www.arahne.si/colors.html/</a arahne.si>

PANTONE has many different color libraries for different markets.


Regarding the issue whether PANTONE colors can be copyrighted or not:
Not being a lawyer, but a developer, I'd like to think about it from a moral aspect. PANTONE has created a very strong brand out of its set of colors, by carefully choosing them, naming them and marketing them. And also by protecting their brand, when a customer buys a PANTONE product, he/she can be sure about the quality of the product. This was costing them a lot of money, and they have every right to protect their investment. If someone think that it is easy to create a color library, why not do it, just call it BLUFFTONE, pick your own color names and numbers, and convince the rest of the world that they should use it. Just don't get into a habit of asking other people to give away their work for free. If you want to do it, just do it.


Dusan Peterc

Arahne, d.o.o.

<a href="http://www.arahne.si/" title="arahne.si">http://www.arahne.si/</a arahne.si>

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