How to mix ink - from digital to real life ?

Hello !

I would like to know how to properly mix ink. The colour will show up in Photoshop, in CMYK mode; and then I want to have the same color to make my print: where do I start, and where do I finish ?



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I’d recommend starting with the Pantone Matching System and the appropriate base ink colors. Get a highly accurate digital scale and mix according the the PMS percentages.


Ty, but I would like to have a explicit answer. Like…Step-1…you do this, etc…This would be helpful for all beginners. On this site, this is the problem, we need more step by step answers. Don’t take this personal Brad, I am just thinking out loud.

Step by step instructions only help that much in a process where every step is a variable, but, I think his answer pretty much gives you all the info you need… Keep in mind, I’m no expert on mixing letterpress inks:

Step 1: Get a Pantone Swatchbook/fan with CMYK values
Step 2: Get a base set of process inks
Step 3: Find a place with neutral light and mix the inks according to the percentages listed on your swatches or in your photoshop document… either by getting a digital precision-scale, measuring it out and then checking with the printed swatch, or by mixing an approximation and slowly working towards a match
Step 4: try the ink on your chosen paper to ensure the color will look right on the final print, repeat step 3 to compensate for any differences if necessary

Good luck =)


I’d like to add Step 5, which is to continue to repeat mixing until you slowly lose your mind.

On a more serious note, use a pantone swatch book in conjunction with photoshop by opening up your swatches and going to color libraries. You can select the approximate pantone color by swatch book, i.e. solid uncoated, process coated, etc.

It’ll be hard for you to match without learning to eye the color on the sheet, as all swatch books will be formulated for offset coverage. There’s no such thing as an official letterpress color guide, so trust your eyes, or better yet, the client’s eyes.

Maybe you should test yourself here:

James Beard
Vrooooom Press

If you can find a value in the Pantone colors which matches the color you are seeking, the ink is mixed, not from CMYK % values, but rather by the component colors which make up the base pantone ink set. You can’t mix CMYK inks designed for process color reproduction and com up with the proper colors indicated.

But, given that you must have the proper Pantone Ink colors, mixing is just simply:
1. measuring the individual colors by weight and
2. mixing them together to obtain the proper color.

One thing to consider, however, is that generally letterpress printing lays down a heavier film of ink than offset litho (to which the Pantone Ink formulae are calibrated), so the person mixing may have to add extenders (transparent white) to lessen the pigment load to get the proper color.

John henry

I would add that you shouldn’t bother attempting to match an ink to your monitor. As James said, you’ll lose your mind. Plan your design with color chips from a swatchbook instead.

To expand a little on what everyone else is saying: Get a Pantone Color Formula Guide and a set of Pantone base inks (or at least the ones you need for your specific color). Find the color you want, say PMS 286. In the guide, it says 286 has 12 parts Reflex Blue and 4 parts Process Blue. On your scale, measure out 12 grams of Reflex Blue. Move that ink to your mixing table and clean off the scale. Then measure out 4 g of Process Blue. Move that ink over to your mixing table. Mix. Scrape a little ink as thinly as possible on a white card (or whatever paper you’re using) and compare to the PMS swatch. You’ll probably need to adjust from there. If you need larger quantities of ink, you can scale up proportionally.

“If you can find a value in the Pantone colors which matches the color you are seeking, the ink is mixed, not from CMYK % values, but rather by the component colors which make up the base pantone ink set. You can’t mix CMYK inks designed for process color reproduction and com up with the proper colors indicated.”

You do get Pantone swatchbooks with CMYK process colors, but as people have said, the values are for printing with offset and the inks used are very, very thin and transparent. The pantone CMYK swatches are taking into account that the white paper will be showing through. Since letterpress has a much larger ink-deposit than offset litho, your printed color will look different due to the heavier deposit/less show-through of the white paper. If you use PMS colors, the inks used aren’t as transparent, as they are formulated for enabling consistancy.

In the end, the most important thing isn’t that the final color looks like it does on the screen, it never will, but that the client is happy with the end result and that you’ll be able to mix more of it for future runs.

Ty everybody. I really appreciate your help.

Where are the best/cheapest places to get a PMS guide? And what exact kind of scale are you referring to? What kind of price range can I look for for that?

I have always just mixed inks by eye and approximation. I need to implement a more exact system like this. Thanks for all the expertise, everyone!

small aside:

thanks james for that link! i hadn’t seen it before, it was fun to do. apparently i have perfect color vision, lol, yay me! :)


I’ve never seen PMS guides discounted. They’re typically around $60-70 for the color formula guide.

I think any scale that can accurately measure to the hundredth is what you need. I have an Ohaus SP601 digital scale that was around $200. There are cheaper ones.

You can contact local printers, designers etc. that might be replacing their color guides. Allot of companies replace these yearly and you might be able to get a “used” one.

You will probably not like my answer, but here goes. Someone else said don’t try to match you monitor and they are correct. You projected color and printed color will always be different no matter if it is letterpress, digital, offset, flexo or any other ink, paint or toner system.
Having said that I’ve never come across a color I couldn’t match.
I have a small ink set. It includes, Opaque White, Transparent white, reflex blue, warm red, rubine red, black and yellow. Unless I intentionally want the image to be transparent, like process inks, I start with opaque white.
I then mix in small amounts of ink to work my way to the color desired. The basics that you learned in school will get you started. Red and Yellow make orange, Yellow and Blue make green, Blue and Red make purple, from there adding more of any of the basics will get you into more sophisticated versions of the same thing, like an aqua or teal, using the yellow and blue in different combinations.
To make the shade darker, add a touch of blue at a time.
I know this sounds simplistic but with practice, you’ll nail anything. By the way some silver in a color makes an interesting metallic.
good luck ,