|Herbert grew up in the color business, not far from Pantone’s U.S. headquarters in Carlstadt, N.J. In the late 1950s his father, Lawrence, took a job as a color matcher and pressman at what was then Pantone Press. Though his plan was to earn money for medical school, the senior Herbert saw an opportunity. Even though printers were mixing all their colors from the same basic inks, eight in all, every formulation was a custom request. Wouldn’t it be less expensive and time consuming, he reasoned, if printers all worked from a standardized palette that told them how much of each ink to mix to yield a particular color perfectly every time?
Herbert’s father purchased the custom printing side of the business in 1962 and rolled out his idea, a palette of 504 tints each with its own numeric identifier that would come to be known as the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM (commonly referred to as PMS).
By the time Richard Herbert began his college search, his father’s privately held company already had extended its reach from ink mixers to graphic designers, who used PANTONE color books to select and define colors the way an interior decorator uses paint chips and fabric swatches. But the high school-aged Herbert was hooked on computer programming, so “the family business was something I didn’t think I’d end up in, at least not initially.”
When Herbert arrived at Rensselaer he found the engineering classes difficult. “It was not easy for me,” he says. “After a couple of years I realized that I wanted to be involved in technology not in developing it, necessarily, but in the business of technology.” So he switched to management and doubled up his coursework to graduate on time with his class.
During a slide presentation in a graduate-level marketing course at Rensselaer that was generated from the first IBM PC with a color display, Herbert realized he was “cut out to be” at Pantone, helping to guide it into the digital age at the same time that computers were evolving from a monochromatic world into full color.
Color our world
Though he initially was met with skepticism colleagues joked with Herbert about the crude color output from color printers compared to traditional offset printing by the time desktop publishing boomed in late 1987, Pantone was beginning to sign on the Adobes, Apples, Epsons, HPs, Quarks, and Xeroxes of the world.
Today that means students in Miyamoto’s Introduction to Visual Communication class at Rensselaer can sit at a computer and shuffle through millions of Pantone swatches when it comes time to “color” their projects. “Color really changes the form,” says Miyamoto, an artist and veteran designer in his own right. “The Pantone Matching System helps us identify the colors’ specifics so we can return again and again and coordinate with other materials when we go back and design brochures and Web sites and posters.”
Pioneering technology always has been a major focus for Herbert, who was named president in 2001 when his father became chairman and CEO. In 1995 Pantone rolled out Hexachrome (a six-color printing system that Herbert co-invented and patented and that yields more depth and richness than typical four-color printing). In 1996 it introduced ColorWeb for linking “Internet-safe” colors with print colors. As the printing process itself moved away from expensive paper proofs, called match prints, Pantone developed a series of products to help designers calibrate their computer screens to ink, paper, and software settings so that what comes off a press or a paint mixer or loom, now that Pantone has extended its reach into the textile, home, and fashion design industries is exactly what they expected. Other devices measure an object’s spectral curve to find its closest PANTONE match. Still others work with software such as AutoCAD to expand color matching into architecture and industrial design.
Next on the high-tech color path are consumer applications, says Herbert, adding that “high-level technology is coming downstream” to give the average person some of the tools once reserved for professionals.
“It’s a physically known fact that most people can’t remember color in any precise way,” he says. “You can stare at a wall that’s blue and go to the store and try to find something the same blue. But it won’t match.” So the company is moving toward making color-identification and color-matching technology more understandable and available to the general public.
Using Pantone technology, Herbert says it’s conceivable that consumers would be able to bring a fabric swatch to a home improvement store where it would be scanned with a device that automatically finds other products throughout the store with the same or coordinating color values, so an entire room could be designed around that swatch. Currently, you can only do this with paint. Moreover, “You can walk into a home store and say, ‘I want sheets and pillowcases in this color,’ ” Herbert says. “If they don’t have that color, they can dye it for you.”
Many other consumer applications, from digital photography to video games and home theater, too, can benefit from color matching. Though he won’t discuss specifics, Herbert says Pantone products might someday enable various consumer electronic devices to “read” the type of monitor or TV screen they are plugged into and calibrate it to display the graphics the way its designers or producers intended.
The challenge in these endeavors, Herbert says, is to present the underlying principles of color matching and the technology behind it in a transparent way the general public will understand. It’s something the digital camera industry has done fairly well, providing consumers with everything from equipment (cameras and printers) to supplies (ink, paper, and media for storing images) that can be integrated seamlessly and easily.
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