The human eye is truly amazing and can distinguish up to a million different colors. And, from the perspective of sports branding, fans might even be able to detect a few more as a result of the powerful emotional connection forged with their teams and their team colors. Even a slight shift in a legacy team color is noticed by astute fans who immediately call foul. That said, I wanted to share a color issue that we have seen popping up across the leagues related to shifting brand colors from medium to medium.
Consuming our sports brands on screens
As creatives that manage brands and the brand style guides needed to replicate those brands faithfully, we are dependent on technology. Recently, we have been wrestling with a color challenge that comes with the growing emphasis on digital applications (RGB) –as well as the shift away from the classic licensing manufacturing processes (matched screen-printed inks, match-color lithography, and embroidery threads) to dye sublimation technology (CMYK) and other processes such as Chromaflex that image team colors on everything from uniforms to licensed hard and soft lines. So, rather than using exact ink color matches, CMYK translations of swatch colors are becoming ubiquitous and RGB is being displayed with greater fidelity on all of our screens.
Our industry relies on two companies that enable us to image sports brands: Pantone and Adobe.
Pantone is our industry's color standard and Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop are the graphic software of choice. These two companies come together by way of Adobe's licensing the use of the Pantone color standards. As a result, Pantone supplies the CMYK and RGB color simulations of swatch colors which are then baked into Adobe Illustrator files. This is where this color shifting issue comes into play. Pantone made a major update to swatch color CMYK and RGB color simulations to what they feel is a 'more accurate representation of swatch colors'. Meanwhile, Adobe has released a new Illustrator program version that adopts these new formulations. The practical result is that if one creates a document in Adobe Illustrator CS5 and specify Pantone 185–and then do the same in Adobe Creative Cloud (AKA Illustrator CS6 and forward), the result is significant visual color differences when rendered in RGB (on a screen) or CMYK (on digital output). The problem is that designers are not all using the same Illustrator version, and therefor, not using the same color formulations.
For a simple example of how this issue shows up on a day-to-day basis, we have chosen the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cincinnati Reds to demonstrate the issue.
In the case of the Blue Jays, Pantone's updated formulation for the lighter blue Pantone 293 is very dramatic. Deeper saturated colors such as the Blue Jays' navy Pantone 282 have shown to be less apparent.
In the case of the Reds, their signature red color renders very noticeably deeper than the older, lighter Pantone 200 formulation.
This wouldn't be worth a mention if all of any particular team's graphics where coming out of one central studio who could adjust and move on. But sports brands are replicated by a wide variety of stakeholders such as the print media, broadcast partners, creative agencies, digital media, soft good licensees, hard good licensees, digital licensees, web designers, print designers, environmental graphics designers…and the list goes on. And each of these stakeholder's will likely be using different versions of Adobe Illustrator for some time. And there is the rub.
The ah ha moment
We were working on a team rebrand and had reached a point late in the process where illustrator files were being passed back and forth to their senior creative via email. But we ran into a problem when they began noticing the colors shifting from file to file. We looked at the colors on all of our studio monitors and triple checked the use of the correct Pantone. So why was it rendering in two shades? We then traded printouts and the colors were clearly shifting between two distinct shades. Thankfully, we were able to trace the problem to files that we were sharing back and forth and were being updated on different versions of Illustrator. But we all wasted a lot of time and became frustrated prior to figuring out the Illustrator/Pantone issue.
The Bandaid Solution
A temporary solution that we employ for legacy sports brands is “locking-in” the older Illustrator CS5 CMYK and RGB formulations that the brand owners have grown accustomed to. But the preservation of aging-out color simulation formulas will continue to wreak havoc when creating new documents without sampling the locked colors from the logo...and will persist until designers from across our industry migrate to the current Adobe software (subscription-based Creative Cloud) and adopt the new formulas that–according to Pantone–are more true to the color swatches.
So when a colleague, client, or QC department tells you that you got the color wrong, the answer just might be that everyone is using the correct color–just not the same formulas.
**STATEMENT FROM PANTONE POSTED TO AN ADOBE FORUM :
Beginning with Adobe CS6, the PANTONE PLUS SERIES libraries are stored in L*a*b* color space. L*a*b* is the base color space used in color-management workflow, and should provide far more accurate onscreen simulation, as well as consistency in output using a color-managed workflow.
Prior to CS6, the PANTONE spot color libraries were stored in CMYK color space, which tended to make the onscreen display of colors quite muted and lifeless.
Wherever possible, you should consider updating your legacy files with swatches taken from the updated PANTONE PLUS SERIES colors, for most accurate color reproduction.