Which Pantone guide do you use?

Just wondering which Pantone guide you think is best to use for mixing ink colors? I am looking at the new GeoGuide but have no clue.

I use uncoated stock so of course I should get an uncoated guide… but which one?

Log in to reply   31 replies so far

I just have a standard coated and uncoated (they are in one fan deck). It has the mix listed for each color. But alot of them are hard even for large printers to get right on mixing (with expensive scales ect)!
I often mix colors like paint. But if someone just has to have an exact match it is sometimes worth it to buy it premixed (but that might not even match given the way letterpress lays down ink compared to offset.) There are some posts here on the subject if you want to read more.


i have a really old pantone solid matte deck and need to get a new one. i just didn’t know if the formulas were different for the various decks…

color bridge vs geo vs solid matte etc…

any thoughts?

From a veteran with 50+yrs experience.
Unless you are running a commercial setup I wouldn’t bother with pantone.
If you are running a commercial shop then get the ink mixed by your ink maker; its much more economical than buying the scales and other equipment necessary to do accurate color matching, and much less time consuming, and wastes far less ink.


I don’t have any experience with Pantone’s new Goe system, I just stick with Pantone Solid Uncoated or Pantone Solid Matte. Works like a dream, every designer knows how to spec it and every printer knows how to match it. We typically order custom inks—but we try to limit our house ink colors to about 10-12 per year. If someone wants custom we simply pass on the cost of the mix ($30/lb locally)


do you have any tips then for using the pantone guide?


I have an old Pantone Matte color book…. BUT I must admit that I don’t use the formulas. I just use the color samples for deciding what color is to be printed and then match that up “by eye”…. sort of like the way an artist mixes paint for a painting.

I guess that method defeats the purpose of Pantone Color Matching, but it works for my shop.
I assume that if I can’t see the difference, then nobody else will either. (Then again, I don’t work with designers… )


Looks like xrite/pantone is still selling the latest rendition of it’s color guides before the switch to Geo. Goe is their newest “system” and personally I’ve not seen any designer use it yet. I presume at some point in the future they will force everyone off the old system and onto Goe. If your looking for brand new fan book look for “graphics” under the product menu on their site. Then look to “PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM® solid color” for the books.

Anything labeled with “BRIDGE” is to match solid color to either RGB, LAB, CMYK or possibly Hexachrome mixes. Not anything you’ll need unless your printing solid colors in process ;)

~~The only thing added to the modern standard PMS book is the addition of flourescent and metallic inks~~

That’s not true actually. At least twice now Pantone has changed the whiteness and grade of the paper the books are printed on. They’ve changed the coated color to 175 line and the uncoated to 150 line for the process books. They’ve added many colors that can be mixed from the standard set. They’ve also changed many of the formulas as well as the process matches for colors. They also have pastel books now in addition to metallic and florescent.


we got all our books from ink suppliers until they stopped giving them away for free, so most of our are not very white these days either.

Check out Pantone’s website sometime, the vast array of what they offer these days is just dizzying.

Just to note: Designers are not pesky. We are simply looking for a result that matches what we are envisioning. I am a designer by day and a letterpress printer by night. I have come to learn how to let go of some things and push the process to work for what I want. Please don’t think of us as pesky. I have found myself not telling some of the “old guard” that I am a designer just to avoid the looks and annoying comments that follow. We may insist on pushing the envelope here and there, but don’t look at that as annoying, it’s an adventure that could end in a surprisingly beautiful result.

As for the Pantone guides: I use the uncoated formula guide and its ratios to mix inks as a jumping off point. Because I have been using the Pantone system for so long, I kind of think of color in that way. It’s a little tricky when mixing small amounts and not having a super accurate scale, but it gets you started. After that you just mix in a little of this and a little of that until it looks like what you want. At least that has worked for me.


Believe me, it’s not that hard to do. Of course I have been doing it a long time but for offset printing, same ink.
I do use scales to measure ink in parts. I try to stay with 1/4, 1/2 or 1 lb. amounts. Say for instance 485 red. 8 parts Pantone Yellow & 8 parts Rubine Red. Equal amounts of each. That makes 1 lb. My formula chart is for 1 lb. mixes or double for 2 lb. mixes. My scales are in parts so its kind of easy to do. Just break the proportions down. 8 to 8, 4 to 4, 2 to 2 or even 1 to 1. Smaller amounts are harder to measure. Pretty accurate & consistant. But your do have to have the right basic colors to start with. Yellow, Reflex Blue, Process Blue, 072 Blue(close to reflex blue), Transparent White, Green, Black, 032 Red(close to 185 Red), Warm Red, 021 Orange(close to 165 orange), Rubine Red, Rhodamine Red, 012 Yellow(close to process yellow), Purple & Violet. These are all of the Pantone mixing colors (15 colors). These colors don’t have formulas.
Just don’t try to use rubber based ink on coated paper. It may never dry.
It also seems that Reflex Blue or colors that contain Reflex Blue take longer drying time.
Good luck,

Pesky is truly being nice for some LOL. I find though that those are the ones that aren’t really designers, but call themselves one because they have a computer and a copy of adobe ;)

A good, skilled, knowledgeable designer is like a good skilled knowledgeable pressman, hard to come by and worth their weight in gold. I’d give my eye teeth for a good designer who was just pushing the envelope and trying to achieve something of beauty and perfection as long as they were just as willing and patient to see it happen.

I have stopped using the Pantone matching system for letterpress.The inks are all formulated for offset and print differently letterpress. Letterpress tends to lay more ink, so to get a good match with good coverage. you have to ad tint base or opaque white which ultimately changes the color.
I just tell my customers I can come darn close letterpress, but if you want a dead Pantone match then I can print it offset.



I use to mix colors myself. You can look at the PMS guide and very much mix to a similar similar tone, by mixing cyan, yellow and magenta. The mix of the 3 gives a washed black. Some spot colors like reflex blue can’t be matched, or fluorescents &c. Add to this 3 colors, black, transparent and opaque whites and you will be able to come up with a lot of colors…

I agree that following the pantone guide in letterpress, due to more pigment being transfered to the paper then in offset, you will end up getting ‘darn close’ color. That happens because the water washes ink coverage in an offset plate. A letterpress press don’t use water or fointain solutions, is pure pigment, laid on the plate, in my case with a lot of ink.

You can use pantone colors as you palette, but you have to print it yourself, and the result is what you get. For exemple, PMS Red 185. That for my eye is magenta ‘lightened’ with white opaque, then adding a bit of yellow. Of course, with certainty to get that color, you have to look at the sample, pms or whatever and match it in your print with the ink in the press. The very pms 185 may look different from a offset printed sample! I say it looks darker if printed as heavy solids, in letterpress.

I don’t remember right out of my head any book, but you could learn a lot about mixing colors by searching for ” Complementary Colors ” —sure there are books for that out there.

If you like the result when you print red 185, good. But that 185 will not match the pms guide if compared.



I use the standard PMS book for reference with letterpress projects. I can use it with confidence for offset.


For a PMS color that is required, I try to use two PMS colors down in the book. Some times it is a completely different color. I don’t have my book in front of me so I can’t give you an example….look and you will see. So I use transparent white to dilute the offset PMS…which should give a darn near right color that matches the PMS swatch book. Make sure that you do a color wash on your rollers…as many times that are needed ( I have to say this, most rollers are not throughly cleaned and then pollute the color you are trying to achieve.)

If you look through the PMS solid color book you’ll notice most often the center most patch is the base color. Then they mix in black in the lower patches and white in the lighter ones. iirc all the original 3 digit colors are this way, some of the 4 digit and newer colors don’t follow that pattern though.

Lots of good information that will take me a while to sort through. Currently I do not use a scale. I am a bit intimidated by this method, never having done it before. Is there a particular scale you would recommend? (I usually mix small amounts)

Any good scale that will measure a decimal of a gram should be good. I used to use a tri-beam scale with sliding weights. I think even a mailing scale could work.

Pantone formulas are listed in parts so you do not necessarily need a scale, just an accurate way of getting 1, .5, .25, .125 parts of whatever. It’s been mentioned here before that it’s possible to use ink from a tube and a ruler to mix colors.

/* Devil’s Tail Press
‘In my interactions with designers I was shocked at how much they made vs how much of the actual work I did (including telling the designers what was or wasn’t humanly possible, because they hadn’t a clue). Calling them “pesky” was being nice.’

If a designer’s job was to do the printing, they wouldn’t have much need of you, would they? If you are looking for better pay, you could always quit and become a designer. EZ $$$ bay-bee! That is, if you are a good designer, can hustle up some business, and work really fast. Otherwise you get a mess of pissed off clients, a dying business, and a lot of debt.

If you think designers are bad, you should get to know their clients.



Wow, so much information here! I am just a hobby shop and I’ve been a bit stymied by color mixing. My issue with the Pantone book is more that I don’t have the $60-100 on hand to shell out for it. I have found it to be a good “jumping off point” even if I’m not strictly matching (when I’m printing at the local non-profit print place)—but I’d love to find another source for home use.

HD-Tiegel mentions PMS 185. I use a lot of Van Son’s “Dutch Fireball Red” and I understand that this is PMS 185. Whatever it is, I happen to love it and use it quite a bit just solid as a “printer’s red” (i.e. here: http://flickr.com/photos/lyza/2897448049/in/set-72157607176565799/ )

Anyway: My main issue with the Pantone system is that I am mixing in quantities *way* too small for realistic weighing. But even an approximation of ratio goes a long way—that is, even eyeballing a mix will get you surprisingly close to the original color.

I know this thread is dead, but I’m putting in my 2 pennies. You mix pantone colors by taking (as close as you can get it) equal sized daubs (in the proportions given in the formula) on your knife/spatula and laying them out in rows on a piece of glass.

I add about half the called for amount of any dark color- blue or black (cause if you add too much, you can’t recover the batch) - you mix it up, daub some up on a paper towel and smear it on your paper.

Rub in one area until you have a gradation from little coverage to tons of coverage. Hold your chip up against it.

Now you know how close you are, whether you will have to run the thing through twice and such.

Now finish the mix with the “rest” of the darks and any “adjustments” your level of expertise says you should make.

It’s not that hard and eventually, you get a feel for how colors “work”. That’s the fun part.

With a nod to graphic designers, I got proficient at mixing ink quickly, mainly due to traipsing up the stairs to show my designer wife every stinking color that I mixed, whereupon, she quickly told me how to fix the mix.

I agree with rziesing - I dont use a scale. I have both pantone mixing guides but I use uncoated because I use Lettra paper which is uncoated.

Then I just mix by hand and unless it is a mix of more than 3 colors I dont have too much trouble. I was a painter before I was a printer though so I am used to color mixing. If you know color theory you can easily tell when something has gone a little wrong and readjust.

It also depends on how exact you want it to be. I can usually get super close but with some colors the are more a very close match.

Best of Luck!

The trick is to test the color while you mix.

We dip the tip of a sharp putty knife gently into the ink. Then we make a strong, deliberate scrape across a sample of the stock we’re going to use for the job.

This approximates the ink density achieved on the press very well. usually the tail end is lighter than where you started. The lighter color is what you’ll see on press.

I assume many of us are visual learners…and as such, looking at certain color combinations can be useful in determining what you want. While this is wholy unscientific, it is useful. I have a book called “”The Designer’s Toolkit, 1000 Colors” by Graham Davis which is a wonderful visual reference. The book comes with a CD full of the vector drawings inside with the correct color combinatons. The Cd is only marginally useful in Letterpress but is a nice addition to the book, especially if you work on a computer as well. Just my 2¢.