Sales: $19 million (2001 est.)
NAIC: 511140 Database and Directory Publishers; 511120 Periodical Publishers; 511210 Software Publishers
Pantone, Inc., with its corporate headquarters in Carlstadt, New Jersey, is a private company that over the last four decades of the 20th century built a global reputation as an authority on color and color systems. Using a 1,757-color palate, the company develops, standardizes and forecasts colors for a worldwide clientele. It provides both color systems and the technology that enables industries not only to select colors accurately but also to communicate choices from designers to manufacturers to retailers and thence to customers and other end users. Over the years, the company has expanded its Pantone Matching System concept for use by a variety of industries with color-critical needs, including textile, plastic, and digital technology manufacturers. Its special expertise lies in the development of communication tools for industries and in the adoption of new digital technology to meet the needs of design and production professionals. The company is headed by Lawrence Herbert, who joined Pantone in 1956 and introduced the Pantone Matching System in the early 1960s.
Gaining Momentum under Lawrence Herbert in the 1950s
Pantone’s emergence as a major force in color management systems did not start until Lawrence Herbert became part of the company. As a young man, he had an early interest in printing, but that was not the focus of his education. He graduated from Hofstra University with a double major in biology and chemistry. His plan was to go on to medical school, but in 1956 he began working for Pantone on a part-time basis and became so intrigued with his work that he scrapped his idea of pursuing his studies as a physician.
At that point, Pantone was just a small printing company in Manoochie, New Jersey. There were no industry-wide or uniform standards for color printing. Pantone printers in the 1950s employed a basic stock of about 60 different pigments and used them to mix ink colors in an inefficient, trial and error method. Through his knowledge of chemistry, Herbert was able to reduce the stock of pigments to a basic palette of just 12 from which a full range of colored inks could be mixed.
By 1962, Herbert was running the printing half of the business while the company’s original owners focused on promoting commercial displays. Although Herbert’s division was profitable, theirs was not, and even though they drained off funds from his division, they soon ran up a $50,000 debt. Herbert then bought the printing division from them for $50,000, enough to pay off their debt. The funds for the buyout were provided by a woman who not only put up the money but did it without demanding a financial stake in the company as collateral. The identity of this benefactor has never been disclosed.
1960s: Becoming an International Authority on Color Systems
Under Herbert, Pantone began its development into an international authority on color and color systems. It took the initial step in 1963, when it introduced its first Pantone Matching System Printers’ Edition, the basis for it evolution into a company with global prestige and influence. Although Herbert had previously developed a uniform system based on a carefully coded mixing of 12 basic pigments, it was not until he owned Pantone that he began an aggressive campaign to gain wide acceptance of his system. He had also reduced the number of pigments to just ten basic inks, making the generation of a wide array of colors remarkably simple.
Herbert wrote to 21 major ink producers, describing the Pantone Matching System and offering to license them as manufacturers of the system’s ten basic inks. It took less than two weeks for all but one of them to sign on and pay a basic royalty to Pantone. It was an unheralded achievement, but, albeit quietly, it had revolutionized the color printing trade.
The Pantone Matching System soon began providing solutions to some of industry’s problems. For example, it helped Kodak solve one that had stemmed from the fact that Kodak used more than one company to print its film packaging. Confronted with film boxes with varying shades of yellow, customers tended to leave the darker shaded ones on retail shelves, thinking the film in them was not as fresh as that in the brighter ones. With Pantone’s systems, companies printing the boxes for Kodak all began producing them with the exact same color tone and thereby solved Kodak’s niggling problem.
Through the rest of the 1960s, Herbert started to adapt his basic matching system, not just to printing, but also to other industries. In 1964, he launched the Pantone Color Specifier for the design market, and in the next year introduced the first artist materials application of the Pantone Matching System. Pantone also developed new systems and guides in Hébert’s first decade as owner, including, in 1968, Pantone’s first Four-Color Process Guide and its Color Tint Selector for the design field.
1970s: Entering the Digital World of Computing
It was more of the same during the 1970s, a decade that also saw Pantone sign up some important clients and negotiate at least one major agreement. In 1971, 3M signed on as a Pantone Color Key licensee. Also in that year, Pantone by Letraset Color Markers were introduced in the design field and, in the following year, Pantone and Letraset entered an agreement granting Letraset global rights to produce and market Pantone Graphic Arts Materials, all of which were coordinated to the Pantone Matching System. At that time, too, Pantone entered a licensing arrangement with Day-Glo Color Corporation for the application of its system to fluorescent base colors.
In 1974, Pantone also made its first foray into the digital world of computing when it produced its Color Data System for computerized ink color formulation and matching. It was a significant step in an area of application that, as computer use burgeoned in the 1980s and beyond, became increasingly important.
Herbert took Pantone private in 1977. In its last year as a public company, Pantone’s sales were about $2 million. Thereafter, Herbert did not divulge what the company’s sales volume was each year, but by the mid-1980s, Pantone’s trade mark appeared on about $500 million work of art supplies, ink, and other art and printing products marketed in over 50 countries.
1980s: Technological Advances and Partnerships
Through the 1980s, Pantone made some significant technological advances and launched new products. Among other things, in 1981 the company introduced its Two-Color Selector and its Color Selector/Newsprint, and in 1982 it launched its Process Color Simulator. In addition, in 1984, Pantone formed a new division, its Electronic Color Systems Division, established to reproduce the company’s color standards in a digital system.
By 1985, Pantone had also signed on its first software licensee, Via Video. In the next year, it inked a licensing agreement with Networked Picture Systems, Inc., its first client to adapt Pantone’s software designed for the IBM-PC and compatible computers; then, during the following year, 1987, it licensed LaserWare, Inc. as its first customer to adopt a version of the software for use with the Apple-Macintosh platform. Meanwhile, by that same year, the company expanded its Matching System to 747 colors.
Between 1988 and 1990, the company entered into licensing agreements with most of the world’s major graphic and design software manufacturers of programs for both Macintosh and IBM-PC compatible computers. In 1988, it also signed up QMS, Inc., as its first printer licensee, and in the next year added NEC Technologies, Océé Graphics, and Tektronix Inc. to its list.
It was also in 1989 that Pantone expanded its Textile Color System to 1,225 colors and, in a cooperative venture with Intergraph Corporation, developed its Color Interface for high-end computer systems. In a venture with another company, Purup Electronics A-S, it also created and introduced The Purup System for designing sophisticated packaging.
By the late 1980s, Pantone had energetically entered a period of partnering with other companies to develop new products. In that respect it was very much in step with what many large companies were doing in a variety of industries, particularly those that could derive benefits in cost and efficiency from outsourcing some part of their operations. The company’s co-development of products would continue through the next decade, starting in 1990, when it developed its Professional Color Toolkit in conjunction with Radius Inc. The toolkit consisted of a software library designed to achieve the best Pantone color in Pantone-licensed printers. Meanwhile, several other companies signed on as Pantone software licensees.
Pantone, Inc. is the world-renowned authority on color and provider of color systems and leading technology for the selection and accurate communication of color. The PANTONE Name is known worldwide as the standard language for color communication from designer to manufacturer to retailer to customer. With 40 years of experience, we are the worldwide market leader in color communication and color technology for the graphic design, printing, publishing, textile and plastics industries. Whether you are creating a logo, a product, packaging, an ad, the latest fashion trend or a vision, we have the tools and solutions for keeping your colors accurate and consistent cross-media, around the world. The PANTONE Color language is the most universally understood standard available.
1990s: Technological Advances
Over the next few years, with the phenomenal development of the home computer industry, Pantone’s role in digital art and design grew by leaps and bounds. In 1991, the company expanded its textile color system to 1,701 colors. It also entered into a new licensing agreement with NeXT Computer Inc., marking the first time that its colors were provided at the system level. That meant that developers for the NeXT platform did not have to build support for Pantone colors into either their software or hardware products. The company also entered new licensing agreements with Ventura Software, Hewlett-Packard, and others, and its colors became available for the UNIX operating system for the first time. Although NeXT, in many ways ahead of its time, would be absorbed by Apple in 1996 and end production, UNIX and its desktop computer versions began to give Microsoft some growing microcomputer operating-system competition as the 1990s wore on.
By 1992, Adobe, Bitstream, Deneba, MultiAd Services, Quark, and Ventura had all announced support for the Pantone color system in their newest software releases. In that year, too, Pantone introduced its color printer test kit, allowing users of Pantone licensed printers to find the closest possible matches to Pantone colors. In that year, the Xerox 4700 color document printer became the first color laser printer to support the full range of Pantone colors, while the Tektronix Phaser USD was the first dye-sublimation printer to provide similar support for the company’s color matching system.
Between 1993 and 1995, Pantone launched several new products and continued to enhance its technology. Among other things, in 1993 it introduced its Open Color Environment (POCE), the first color management system allowing true WYSIWYG color matching. In that year it also introduced its Plastics Color System, a universal plastic color reference system, and ColorUP, a software color management tool for business professionals designed to help them enhance color quality in their reports and presentations. The next year, 1994, Pantone introduced its Color Systems Cross-Reference Software as well as ColorDrive, a desktop color-management program free of specific applications. Next, in 1995, Pantone introduced its Textile Color Swatch Files, its Foil Stamping Color Guide, and its SuperChip, all technical refinements for making color delineation as accurate as possible in different applications of the Pantone systems.
Meanwhile, in the same three-year period, Pantone continued to develop new partnerships and licensing agreements. In 1993 alone, six new companies—AGFA, Aldus, Corel, Gold Disk, Linotype-Hell, and Serif—included support for the Pantone Process Color System in their most recent software releases.
From 1995 to 1998, Pantone continued to produce an array of new products in its partnering and licensing arrangements with other companies, both at home and abroad. Among other things, in 1995 launched Hexachrome for commercial use, secured new licensing agreements with Hewlett-Packard, Lexmark, and Xerox, and entered a distribution pact with Ingram Micro. In the following year, the company received ISO 9002 certification and entered a global distribution agreement with VISU. Next, in 1997, it signed a distribution agreement with ALTO Imaging Group N.V. for the marketing of Pantone’s products abroad, published Color Trends 1998 for graphic and Web design, and released a new version of ColorDrive for Windows. In the following year, 1998, it began shipping ColorWeb Pro, introduced its OfficeColor Assistant, an operating system add-in, and, with Apple, launched a worldwide color seminar series called “Expand Your Color Universe.”
2000 and Beyond
By the end of the decade, Pantone had expanded its global presence to the point where its name had virtually become synonymous with color management, and almost monthly it strengthened its position through new partnerships and licensing arrangements.
By 2001, Pantone had built its palette to 1,757 colors. Its aim at that point was to have not just professionals but the general public speaking its color language. To that end, it started up TheRightColor division, the focal responsibility of which was to provide a universal, uniform, and precise color language along with technological solutions for industry retailers needing a color standard for enhancing consumer shopping and sharpening their competitive edge through all their marketing channels. TheRightColor solutions adapted the universally used Pantone Textile Color System to their needs. Among other things, the solutions allowed retailers to cut down on the number of merchandise returns stemming from faulty color matches, update their inventory tracking and restocking techniques, and enhance their ability to monitor customer color tastes and thereby make stocking and shelving adjustments to increase sales. The company also formed a partnership with The National Retail Federation for the purpose of providing a better color coding system for electronic marketing applications. Clearly, with the new millennium firmly underway, Pantone’s corporate energy remained unabated in what remained an exciting, wide open specialty driven by a rapidly improving technology.
- Lawrence Herbert starts working part-time at a printing company.
- Herbert acquires the printing operations from the original owners.
- Company introduces its initial Pantone Matching System Printers’ Edition.
- Herbert takes company private.
- Company launches its Pantone TheRightColor division.
Adobe Systems Incorporated; Agfa-Gevaert N.V.; Creo, Inc.; IKON Office Solutions, Inc.; Imagining Technologies Corporation.
Hoffer, William, “A Wonderful World of Color,” Nation’s Business, September 1986, p. 69.
Maycumber, S. Gray, “Pantone System Breaks the Fabric Color Barrier,” Daily News Record, October 2, 1989, p. 44.
Nicksin, Carole, “Pantone to Get Customers Involved in Language of Color,” HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network, March 19, 2001, p. 4.
Whitcher, Joann S., “Hi-Fi Color Sows New Promise,” Graphics Arts Monthly, May 1998, p. 69.
Wilken, Earl, “Taking Guesswork Out of Color Work,” Graphic Arts Monthly, December 1998, p. 72.
—John W. Fiero