Mix Pantone colors in house?

Hello again, I’m very new to this and apologies for asking such dumb newb questions. I wanted to see if there is a way to create on demand Pantone ink color mixtures in house (if not Pantone then close cmyk matches)? If not all spectrum then at least some? What kind of a system and investment would it require to be able to produce colors in house for printing letterpress, real small quantities / tiny batches. The idea is that customer orders something letterpress printed and we can quickly in house create ink color for the job from customer specs. Thank you all.

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You will need to purchase at least a pound of each Pantone mixing color in order to be able to use the system, plus transparent and opaque white (you can usually get away with a regular black over a mixing black). This will cost in the neighborhood of $300.00, but for the savings in ordering and wait time it is a worthwhile investment. As for the metallics and specialty colors, purchase them as necessary, unless they are something you wish to offer on a regular basis.


You will need a scale and a Pantone color formula guide too.
Here is free webinar that may help:

Thanks! Paul, where would I go to buy Pantone mixing color around Detroit, Michigan? I think I would want the standard, no hazard, resin inks? Thank you

Try Braden Sutphin in Livonia. Letterpress ink base is not very easy to get anymore. I have used offset inks for years but they are too strong for letterpress so I cut it with transparent white. Browns have to be cut with yellow. If it looks right on the slab then it is close for the job.

Rocket Stan…. the above comments are spot-on about what it would take to be able to produce on-demand Pantone colors. One thing to consider though, is whether or not it will actually be profitable for you to do so. For tiny batches / small runs you may not be able to charge enough to cover your time and materials. Most small-run customers won’t want to pay for an hour of your time to mix the ink. …. and to get it just right will take a good hour, if not longer for lighter colors.

The other problem with offering custom colors is that they oftentimes turn out slightly different than the Pantone book shows due to variations of paper-stock and so forth. If a customer is paying for a custom color they are always very particular that it looks just like they want it to look….. and tend to complain when it’s not perfect.

An alternate possibility would be to develop a dozen or two “special colors” that your small run customers could choose from, and print samples of those colors on a variety of stocks so they can see what the finished product will look like.

I mix Pantones on demand in my shop - yes you need the full gamut of pantone colors and a mixing guide, but it’s not too hard to do with the guide. I do it by eye but you can also get small scale and weight out the colors like they do in the factory. Indeed, be prepared to spend a few hundred getting the colors and guide, but the ink will last a very, very long time, so if you produce a decent amount of volume it can be worthwhile. It really helps me match client samples and get good results.

You can get a used pantone guide on eBay or a new one on Amazon.com. I got my inks from Vanson, they are oil based.

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Thank you for an excellent advice winking cat and for a hands on tips Panthera.

Since it been mentioned that it may not be economical to mix for every request, how do you find it Panthera? Are you spending significantly more on inks mixing on demand rather than offering a dozen selcted colors? And is oil based a personal preference or do you find it easier to mix Pantone than lets say rubber?

Thank you all

The colors are the same in oil base or rubber base. Rubber base is more economical as they don’t skin over as quickly if at all. Drying time is slowed down with the rubber base as well. Depends on substrate and all kinds of other factors. There are some orange golds that are almost impossible to hit. It also helps to look at both the coated and uncoated swatches to give you a clue where it may go. The science of color has been an ongoing discussion since I have been in the trade. Daylight is the best for color matching and fluorescent is the worse.

Chuck is correct. I prefer oil because you can print on glossier substrates if needed as oil ink dries by both absorption and adhesion. It’s also just a coincidence that I got oil because I had one can of it and decided to buy the rest in oil so it would mix well. I’ve used both for years, and I do like that rubber doesn’t skin, but it seems stiffer and harder to mix.If you’re going to offer a dozen selected colors I feel like you might as well buy the dozen or so pantone mixing colors. It takes like 5 minutes to mix the color you need, and many clients are particular about the color (especially brides trying to match items they already have). Just always ask for something to mix to if they are needed a close match, as long as you compare the two in the SAME light side by side you should be fine.

Ultimately it depends who you are printing for - fine book work you could get away with very few colors and a couple different blacks. For the wedding market you need to mix on demand or offer at least 24 colors. For stationary or personal use you could just get the primary colors and mix a large variety to suit your desires. In the end you can start with some basics from the pantone mixing set and build up from there if you wanted, but I had a lot less trouble when I gave in and bought the set.

I believe oil based inks dry primarily by oxidation and absorption—I’m not sure that “adhesion” plays a role in drying qualities. Rubber based inks dry primarily, to the extent they dry or set up, by absorption, which is why coated paper is best printed with oil based ink.


Fritz is correct — oil dries by oxidation. A couple of other notes — if you do use offset ink you can use litho varnish to loosen up the ink. Offset inks have very high pigment loads because they go on so thin. Also be aware they are normally full of driers, which can be a real pain.
For critical color work you should also have an area of your shop lit with color correct fluorescent fixtures and neutral walls to evaluate color in. Daylight is next best, but will change over the course of the day, not to mention time of year. GE Chroma 50 tubes were the gold standard for many years, but the key is to look for 5000k Daylight balance tubes with a CRI (color rendering index) over 90.