Pantone Color Formula Guides

I having been following Ebay to purchase a Pantone formula guide. The various listing are not overly descriptive although it appears that the newer guides being sold do not in fact include the mixing formulae for colors. I would appreciate some guidance on what I should be looking for and other possible sources. If this has been discussed previously, please refer me to the discussion. Thanks

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If you are working with designers, you need a new book and you need to replace it regularly. You want the pantone formula guide. You can get one from Pantone or any ink distributor. Expect to pay about $100.
If you are a hobbyist learn to mix ink the old way - by doing it.
The Pantone Matching System is simply a color standard used by designers and industry to assure color consistency between products and printers. To use the system properly you will be spending a lot of money on an ink inventory and a scale.
You can mix just about any color you want with Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black and Tint Base. Opaque white can be helpful too. And because these are the most common colors in printing they are also the least expensive.


Sumner is so right. I have them, never use them unless threatened by a graphic designer! I mix by eye. Collect colours you see in print and then mix them as you like them. I like spot colours of the 50’s and 60’s (all letterpress and easily done. mix by eye. Start with a good opaque white and add a little colour and use good ink like Van Son Rubber based series. Use a round cut of manilla pcking to store it in a can or something. It doesnt skin. keep building the colour slightly and dont go past the required colour. You cant make a dark colour lighter by adding white! A part of the skill you have as a letterpress printer is the ability to feel for a colour and get it! This is the opposite of film output and having the computer ordane it

I mix by eye as well. One of the advantages of doing it this way is that you can often use up leftover small batches of ink from previous jobs, by starting with them when mixing new colors. This procedure is what ink makers and large printers call “working off” old ink, and they do it all the time.

However, it’s hard to “work off” old ink when you mix Pantone colors from the Pantone book, because the Pantone formulas are all based on the Pantone base colors, not on the leftover inks you have lying around the shop. It is also hard to mix Pantone colors from the Pantone book when you only have cyan, magenta, yellow, black and white because few colors in the Pantone book use only these colors as bases. Another point is that you can’t make all the Pantone colors from just these colors, although I agree with Sumner that you can make most of them.

I think it boils down to how you want to spend your time, and your experience level. If you are running a fast paced business where time is important, then it will be faster to have all the Pantone base colors on hand, and mix all your colors from the Pantone formulas. If you have a little more experience at color matching, or if you want to experiment, and don’t mind spending the time, then you can make most of the Pantone colors by using alternate colors and simple procedures that you develop yourself.

There is one thing anyone can try doing to save money, which works especially well to get rid of your leftover dark and dirty colors that you don’t want to keep around because they would be hard to make other colors from. You can “work them off” by adding small quantities of them to your black ink. This makes your black ink go farther, and if you only add a small amount of the color at a time, you shouldn’t see it because black has so much hiding power.

Before retirement, one of my job functions in the flexographic printing industry was being a professional color matcher, so I happen to have a lot of experience in this area. (I know a lot of you have much experience in other areas of graphics which I don’t have, and that’s what makes these discussions so interesting to me). Becuse of my background, I tend to think of the ink area in terms of what we used to do in the plant, where hundreds of thousands of dollars were involved in purchasing inks.

I’m retired and print for fun now on my Golding Pearl. However, if I can still use a few principles of ink management from my working days, which will save a few cents, and keep me from polluting the environment by throwing away used ink, it is worth it to me.

thanks to all for the lengthy replies - i/we are new to letterpress and print only for fun - so experimental ink mixing sounds like fun.

I would ask for a bit more detail on saving excess ink. If i understand, someone suggests cutting a mailing tube to create small, round vessels to save the ink, or do i misunderstand the suggestion? would small glass jars with tops that seal do the same thing? or?


Keep in mind that the Pantone recipes/colors are basically designed for offset presses. Letterpress generally lays on a heavier coat than offset so you probably have to futz around with the ink anyway to get it to look exactly like the offset-printed sample chip.

The cheapest and most efficient method of saving leftover ink colors that I ever ran across was at a local commercial printer. They simply put their excess inks into wax-coated Dixie cups, cut a piece of wax paper to cover the top and sealed the paper on with a rubber band. They would then write the name or PMS number of the color on the side of the cup and put them all up on a shelf. They would also smear a sample of the color on a piece of paper attached to the cup so you could see exactlyh what the color looked like. I have a cup full of deep purple that they let me have over 25 years ago and I can still dig in a knife and get useable ink out of that cup. The wax cup and wax paper top apparently really keep the air out. They had hundreds and hundreds of cups after being in business for decades and I could occasionally raid the odds & ends to find a special color to toy with at home. They are totally offset and digital now, but back in the day they started as a letterpress shop so they are sympathetic to what I do.

Most “shops” are commercial franchise chains now, but if can find a local printer that’s been around for decades, stop by, introduce yourself, show them what you do, and see if they have old odds and ends that they might let you poke around and use. THIS ALSO APPLIES FOR ODD LOTS OF PAPER that they purchased and used for a specific project and what is leftover is unlikely to be used again.

It never hurts to ask and the worst that can happen is that they say NO. This scenario has served me well for decades.


Hi LetterpressDad,

I mix by eye, too, and I do a lot of that “working off” old ink, though I didn’t know until now that there was a name for it.

For very small amounts of leftover ink, I wrap it in aluminum foil packets. Just spread out a double thickness of foil about the size of a face cloth, plop the ink in the middle, and fold the foil over the ink, pressing out all the air, until you have a little packet about an inch and a half square.Then smear a dab of the ink on the packet for identification.

For larger amounts I’ve had great success with transferring the ink to tubes. Here’s some information, including Dave Celani’s excellent instructions.


I work with designers on a daily basis so I have to use the Pantone Matching System. It’s a fairly easy and fast way to match color, at least for offset.
What I like about mixing by eye is that you are working to achieve the perfect color for your project rather than being ultra critical about weighing your ink perfectly to match the color in some book.
I use the subtractive primary colors (CMYK) because I have a feel for how these colors work together and I have a lot of each of these colors laying around doing nothing since the digital revolution ate up all the short run color work.


Sumner, you bring up a good point about being able to achieve the perfect color for your project when you mix by eye.

Depending on who you ask, the human eye can see from about 1,000,000 to 7,000,000 colors. How many colors are in the PMS book now, around 1000 to 2000?

This being the case, I can see where you can come up with colors by eye, which even if you searched for them in the PMS book, you wouldn’t find them.

We can’t print all the colors we can see, but we can certainly print a lot of them.


Last time I checked Boxcar Press’s site they were selling Pantone guides.


If you’re still looking, I got mine at Boyd’s for $37 with free shipping (a set of 2, coated and uncoated).

It’s the discontinued set, replaced by the Plus system. (Personally I hate the Plus system - had to purchase a new Bridge recently for my day job to update the swatch library. When I went to purchase for myself - I tracked down old books because of my extreme disappointment.) The Plus includes more colors, but these guides will more than get you started.