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Learn about the Pantone Plus color libraries used in Illustrator.

Pantone Plus modernize the way Adobe applications use spot colors from color book manufacturers. Adobe Illustrator, along with InDesign and Photoshop, uses the Pantone Plus Series® of color books. Pantone Plus includes the PMS colors, replacing the earlier Pantone Matching System®.


Pantone Color Libraries in Adobe applications, such as Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign, are available under a business agreement between Pantone and Adobe. This agreement does not cover all the Pantone color libraries, therefore, you might not find certain Pantone libraries in Illustrator and other Adobe applications.

In addition, both these applications have independent update cycles, so recent updates to Pantone libraries may not be immediately available under Adobe applications.

You can update the color libraries using the Pantone Plus Digital Libraries Installer. For more details, see Pantone Color Manager.

Adobe Illustrator has three types of color swatches: process, global, and spot.

Pantone Color Manager Software

Process and global color swatches are related to the document color mode. Changing the document color mode from CMYK to RGB converts the process or global colors. Changing the document color mode back again is a second conversion, not a return to the original color.

Unlike process and global color swatches, spot color swatches preserve the definition and color modes (CMYK, RGB, LAB, Grayscale, HSB, or WebSafe RGB) in which they are created.

Color swatches can be created by either of these:

  • users
  • color book manufacturers such as Pantone

Color system manufacturers create standardized colors for communicating color information across apps and processes. These standardized color libraries are called color books.

The Pantone Plus Series® in Illustrator includes ten libraries:

  • PANTONE+ CMYK Coated
  • PANTONE+ CMYK Uncoated
  • PANTONE+ Color Bridge Coated
  • PANTONE+ Color Bridge Uncoated
  • PANTONE+ Metallic Coated
  • PANTONE+ Pastels & Neons Coated
  • PANTONE+ Pastels & Neons Uncoated
  • PANTONE+ Premium Metallics Coated
  • PANTONE+ Solid Coated
  • PANTONE+ Solid Uncoated

The filename extension of these color books is .acb.

Before CS2, spot colors from Pantone and other systems used CMYK values as the color definitions. CMYK values were whole numbers.

Pantone color books, introduced in CS2, use Lab values as the color definitions. The equivalent CMYK values aren't always whole numbers.

The filename extension of these color books is .acbl.

In Adobe Illustrator, you add named color swatches, such as manufacturer-supplied spot colors, to the document swatches.

Spot colors in the Pantone Plus Series® use Lab values. There are no CMYK definitions for spot colors in the Pantone Plus Series®. Therefore, to add Pantone Plus spot colors to your document swatches, define spot colors using Lab values.

To define spot colors using Lab values, choose Spot Colors from the Swatches panel (Window > Swatches), select Use Lab values specified by the book manufacturer, then click OK.

With the Pantone Plus Series®, Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop CS6 and CC all contain the color libraries from Pantone, enabling seamless exchange of book colors from one app to the other. And because the spot colors use Lab values, the visible results are much closer to the real inks available. Using Lab values for spot colors also reduces the difference of appearance between the Normal and Overprint Preview viewing modes.

CMYK, as a color mode, has a fairly limited gamut. Representing Pantone spot colors in CMYK values results in a wider difference of appearance between printed output and digital artwork.

When workflows demand that Pantone colors use CMYK values, Adobe recommends that you use the Pantone Plus Series® global colors instead of spot colors. If you must use Pantone spot colors that use CMYK values, see the following workarounds.

Workaround 1: Replace Pantone Plus with older Pantone color books

  1. From the folder Adobe Illustrator [CS6 or CC]/Presets/[language]/Swatches/Color Books/, remove all the libraries that have names starting with Pantone+.

  2. From an older version of Illustrator (CS2-CS5), copy all the Pantone libraries with extension .acb and place into: Adobe Illustrator [CS6 or CC]/Presets/[language]/Swatches/Color Books.

  3. Copy all Pantone libraries with extension .acbl and place into: Adobe Illustrator CS6/Presets/[language]/Swatches/Color Books/Legacy.

  4. Relaunch Illustrator, and open all the document profiles from:

    • Mac OS: [user]/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Adobe Illustrator [CS6 or CC]/[language]/New Document Profiles


    • Windows 7: [drive]/Users/[user]/AppData/Roaming/Adobe/Adobe Illustrator [CS6 or CC] Settings/[language]/[binary]/New Document Profiles


    • Windows XP: [drive]/Documents and Settings/[user]/Application Data/Adobe/Adobe Illustrator [CS6 or CC] Settings/[language]/New Document Profiles
  5. For each profile, choose Spot Colors from the Swatches panel (Window > Swatches), select Use CMYK values from the manufacturer's process books, then click OK.

  6. Save and close all document profiles, then restart Illustrator again.

Workaround 2:Make older Pantone libraries available for missing colors

Use this workaround only if you encounter missing colors in legacy documents opened in Illustrator CS6 or CC. It is not recommended to use older Pantone libraries to add new colors to a document.

  1. From an older version of Illustrator (CS2–CS5), copy all Pantone libraries with extension .acb and place into this folder: Adobe Illustrator [CS6 or CC]/Presets/[language]/Swatches/Color Books.

No. There is no change in this process. To add a spot color to a document, open the color book and click the desired swatch.

In Illustrator CS5 and earlier versions, which included the older versions of the Pantone color books, most spot colors from Pantone had two definitions: Lab and CMYK. In addition, the default setting in the Spot Color Options dialog box was CMYK. CMYK values took priority over Lab values. The spot color added to the document usually came with CMYK values.

If you need the same spot colors to be identical in CS5 (and earlier) and CS6/CC, take the following steps, see Workaround 1: Replace Pantone Plus with older Pantone color books.

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This workaround makes the Pantone spot color uniform across different versions of Illustrator. However, it could impact cross-product workflows with InDesign and Photoshop, if you are using the Pantone Plus Series® with these apps.

No. Files from earlier versions open successfully. Spot color definitions are preserved along with their original definitions.


An exception: opening legacy files that contain linked PSDs or TIFF files that have spot channels from older Pantone color books.

Pantone Color Manager Software Review

Importing PSDs and TIFF files with spot channels containing older Pantone colors

PSD and TIFF files that contain spot channels from color books retain a link to the color book. When you place-link such files in an Illustrator CS6 or CC document, the system searches for the color information for spot channels in the installed Pantone Plus color books. If an identically named color is found in any of the available spot color books, the system fetches it and links to the file or opens the legacy file. (This process is also true for opening legacy ai/eps/pdf/indd files that contain links to such PSDs or TIFFs.) During this process, there can be a slight difference in how the color appears (compared to Illustrator CS5 or earlier). There are two possible reasons for the difference of appearance:

Pantone Color Manager

  • The Spot Color Options setting may have been CMYK in the older Illustrator version, and Lab in CS6 or CC.
  • Pantone may have changed the definition of the color in Pantone Plus.

If the color used in spot channels isn't found, Illustrator displays a warning and places the file with the spot color turning black. However, it retains the color as a spot color (Illustrator converts the color to a default black spot for the swatch values instead of coverting it to a process color).


For workarounds, see Workaround 1: Replace Pantone Plus with older Pantone color books and Workaround 2: Make older Pantone libraries available for missing colors.

More like this

Pantone has announced PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray and PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating, as the Pantone Color of the Year selection for 2021, two independent colors that come together to create an aspirational color pairing, conjoining deeper feelings of thoughtfulness with the optimistic promise of a sunshine filled day.

As people look for ways to fortify themselves with energy, clarity and hope to overcome the continuing uncertainty, spirited and emboldening shades satisfy our quest for vitality. Illuminating is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power. Ultimate Gray is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation. The colors of pebbles on the beach and natural elements whose weathered appearance highlights an ability to stand the test of time, Ultimate Gray quietly assures, encouraging feelings of composure, steadiness and resilience.

“The selection of two independent colors highlight how different elements come together to express a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting, conveying the idea that it’s not about one color or one person, it’s about more than one. The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude,” said Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute. “Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted, this is essential to the human spirit.”

Pantone Color Manager Torrent

“The Pantone Color of the Year reflects what is taking place in our global culture, expressing what people are looking for that color can hope to answer,” added Laurie Pressman, Vice President of the Pantone Color Institute. “As society continues to recognize color as a critical form of communication, and a way to symbolize thoughts and ideas, many designers and brands are embracing the language of color to engage and connect.”