Print designers – this one’s for you! I searched for years for a printable CMYK color chart, and couldn’t ever find the right tool. So I finally sat down and created it. If you’re not sure yet how this is helpful to you, trust me, you’re gonna want to read this.
As you know, we generally use CMYK color values for printing our designs. But when you’re printing digitally, those CMYK values are handled in all sorts of different ways. Here’s a photo of the same exact CMYK value printed on 3 different printers:
Certain colors are especially tough to print digitally – blue, green, and gray to name a few. Plus, matching colors to things like bridesmaid dresses, paint swatches, or anything else your design draws from can be really tough. You never know how your colors are going to print when you send them out to your printer! It’s even tough if you print in-house, because you have to run all kinds of color adjustments to get your printer to print colors correctly or match something printed elsewhere.
In my business as a stationery designer, I use different printers on the same projects all the time. What I found was that the same CMYK value printed across several vendors could end up looking completely different – and that led to a frustrated designer and an unhappy client.
The solution I searched for was a large palette of colors that I could print out from my main printers, and keep on hand to see how those machines handled colors differently. Basically a giant printable Pantone color chart PDF, but with CMYK values too!
People have suggested Pantone books, of course, which I am well aware of and have used for years. Pantone books are great when you have control of the mix of ink. I use PMS Values for Letterpress Printing, Offset Printing, Screen Printing, and other mixed inks.
But when you’re printing digitally, a PMS color value doesn’t have any consistency across machines. The printers themselves don’t really have control over what colors go in, so each machine will produce a different result with the same color codes.
What I needed was a printable color chart PDF, with CMYK to Pantone conversion values on each swatch.
After years of searching, I decided to make this tool – The Printable Palette. I learned how to write an Illustrator Script in order to get each swatch with its corresponding PMS, CMYK, and RGB color values on it.
I spent hours laying out the color matching printable so that it would be as simple to use as possible.
At it’s core, The Printable Palette is a color matching tool for digital printers. Physically, it’s a file that you’ll get with 1,300+ color swatches, all including CMYK, PMS, and RGB values right on the swatch. It’s set up in 8.5×11 format, ready to print. It’s a literally a Printable CMYK Color Chart PDF!
This isn’t rocket science, it’s something you could do yourself – but it took me about 12+ hours to put together (even with a script doing the heavy lifting). So treat yourself and use that energy on something else.
You have rights to print it wherever you need to print it – if you mostly print in-house, run a Palette on each of your printers. If you have a couple print shops you use, run a Palette from each. I ended up doing 3 (my main print shop and my 2 in-house printers).
You can cut it up, hole punch (dots provided as a guide) and put it on a ring (I recommend 3″) so it looks like a Pantone deck. Or you can just stick the 8.5×11 color chart in a binder and flip through them when you need to match a color.
This printable CMYK Color Chart works like this:
If you want to use The Printable Palette to match an envelope color, here’s how:
Using multiple printers in the same project? Worried about color consistency? Let’s use this example of my invitations being printed from a commercial print shop and envelopes being printed in-house.
After you print it, you’ll be able to use the color chart PDF in the following ways:
BONUS 12. Just sit there and stare at it! In addition to being super functional, it’s really pretty too!!!
The first thing to note is that digital printer results can vary based on weather, stock type, ink levels, and other factors. You are not guaranteed to get the exact same results every single time, but this tool will definitely help you get close.
I also want to note that this tool doesn’t serve as a color mixing tool! Because the printed results will vary by stock and printer used – your results will not match a Pantone Guide, and The Printable Palette should not be used as a replacement for the Pantone Formula Guides.
I like to think of this as a color matching tool, whereas the Pantone Guides are a color mixing tool. With the PMS Guides, you’re guaranteed a color result every time. The point of The Printable Palette is to help you match when color results vary from machine to machine.
Lastly, it should be obvious, but this color chart will not help you with letterpress printing, screen printing, etc. It can help you match digital printing to those other processes, but it’s a tool specifically for digital print color matching.
If a giant PMS color chart PDF sounds like something you could use – grab The Printable Palette today! Convert CMYK to Pantone, match colors with ease, and get your color matching printable palette on!
Hi, I'm Laney!
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I make wedding invitations and I teach artists how to work smarter, make money, and run a business that works for you.