Colour matching specialists, Pantone on Monday unveiled the ColorVantage system, bringing the company's colour expertise to the wide-format inkjet market. According to Pantone, the ColorVantage technology offers a higher-quality print than the OEM currently provides for about 10 per cent less than the OEM charges. While Pantone has a recognized brand in the industry, analysts believe the problem for Pantone's new inkjet business strategy will be distribution.
Targeted to graphic designers and printing businesses, ColorVantage consists of three components: pigmented inkjet ink; Pantone compatible paper; and Pantone profiles. Andy Hatkoff vice president of Electronic Color Systems at Pantone, said they reformulated the ink, giving work printed with their system a more realistic look - in fact, he said if you printed the Pantone Magenta or Cyan and compared it to the competition, you would be able to see the difference.
"We've been involved very early on in understanding what makes colour work on output devices," said Hatkoff. "We've seen the quality of colour improve significantly over the years as technology has become better, but we also know that there's room for improvement in the way colour is created."
The ColorVantage system will initially support the Epson Stylus Photo 1270; and 1280; Epson Stylus Pro 5000; 5500; 7000; 7500; 9000; and the 9500. Phase two of Pantone's support plans will see the Epson Stylus Photo 2200; Epson Stylus Pro 7600; 9600; and the 10000 series added to the list. There was no timeframe given for the rollout of Phase two of ColorVantage.
As part of a new strategy to broaden its customer base, Pantone will eventually bring its technology to consumer level printers, as well as expand support for more wide-format printers. Pantone said that the ColorVantage system has significant advantages over its OEM competition in both price and quality - Pantone will be selling the ColorVantage system for approximately 10 per cent lower than the OEM, according to Hatkoff.
"The key benefit of ColorVantage is that it provides a colour gamut using our inks and papers that exceed that of the OEM solution," said Hatkoff. "By introducing inks that have a significantly larger colour gamut, we are really breathing new life into some of these earlier generation Epson printers."
Through its own market research Hatkoff said that while colour matching is recognized as being vital to the industry, businesses don't want to spend extra money calibrating the systems, creating profiles or buying a RIP. For ColorVantage, Pantone is using Epson's driver and will provide specially created profiles for all of the printer, paper and ink combinations.
The ColorVantage paper is available in high-gloss photo, semi-matte proofing, matte and fine art.
"There are a lot of colour critical applications in the wide format market like signage, fine art reproduction and even proofing on some devices. The best possible colour matters a lot."
Recognizing that Pantone has appeal for professional users in the graphic arts and design industries, analysts are unsure about Pantone's inkjet strategy, noting the distribution network the company has setup to sell its products. Currently, Pantone plans to sell ColorVantage at Staples online and mail order catalogues.
"As with many things in this industry, it's not always the best solution that wins - it's how do you get that solution into the hands of the people that buy it. I think that's there biggest challenge," said Patti Williams an analyst with IT Strategies.
Graphic designers are cautiously optimistic about the news from Pantone, noting that bringing colour consistency to the desktop has long been a promise, but has never been truly realized.
"If Pantone realizes their promise, this is a significant breakthrough for the graphic artist," said Graphic designer and writer, Andrew Shalat. "Proofing will become as normal a process, as common a process as typography."
The Pantone ColorVantage Starter Kits, which include all the ink cartridges, a CD with profiles and a Pantone Color Chart, range from $48 to $605 (around £35 to £400) depending on printer model, with individual replacement cartridges from $21 to $100 (around £15 to £70).