As a graphic designer, I’ve always been a devotee of Pantone’s color matching system. Without the universal standard, pressmen would be busily mixing ink trying to match paint chips from the hardware store.  The big change now is, you are very likely to find your paint color was researched, named, or “inspired by” Pantone.

Or your Barbie.  Or your t-shirt.  Or your makeup.

I am willing to bet if you have done any shopping at all in this economy that something you own is Tangerine Tango, the color of the year.  When exactly did the color nerds become the popular kids?

A quick review of Pantone’s history reveals their humble beginnings solving exactly the problem I’ve described above, printers needing formulas to achieve specific colors.  As Pantone’s system gained acceptance, it became the universal standard in the printing industries.  Through early partnerships, the company was integrally involved in the evolution of color management on computers.  Their work with Adobe has proven a good bet as they have become the market leader in design software for print and web applications.

What I did not realize until researching this entry was that Pantone was purchased in 2007 by Xrite, a Michigan based company known primarily or their densitometers.  Pantone has been doing a great job making allegiances with organizations as diverse as the U.S. Army and Barneys New York, but under Xrite they’ve emerged from behind the curtain.  No longer “merely” a utility for graphics professionals, the Pantone name became recognizable to consumers.  From 2000, the company started assembling a secret cadre of industry elites to determine and forecast their color of the year.  From automobile paint to handbags, the forecast helps to determine the direction for the zeitgeist as much as it responds to it.  They are not just ink anymore, but furnishings, paint, fabrics, and plastics.

This year, Sephora partnered with Pantone to take color fidelity to a yet more intimate level, and finds women coordinating their eyeshadow with their shoes.  In Tangerine hues, of course.

As has been recently announced, Xrite will be purchased by Danaher Corporation.

“As part of Danaher, X-Rite will be able to expand our access to new markets and complementary technologies.”

The synergies that have made Pantone’s business expand from the mixing room to the showroom floor will most readily be recognized in their new-found sisterhood with Danaher properties like Esko, a leading developer of graphics and printing solutions for the packaging and professional publishing markets.

It stands to reason that Pantone’s presence in the marketplace will only expand as the information economy emerges from its chrysalis and the true design economy is born.

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