In InDesign or Illustrator, I know that you can make tints of a Pantone swatch spot color with converting it to CMYK. With a spot color, you have one color slider that controls what percentage of that color is used.

What I'd like to know is if it's possible to create "shades" of Pantone swatches in InDesign or Illustrator without first converting them to CMYK. That is, is there some where to have two color sliders, one for the amount of Pantone spot color, and one for the amount of K? Or is it not possible to add black without converting to CMYK first?

I'm having trouble finding anything online because I'm not sure what terminology to search this with. Thanks for the help.

UPDATE: I just discovered the "Mixed Ink Swatch" option in InDesign. Does anyone know how this feature works? If I make a "Mixed Ink Swatch" of 50% black and 100% a pantone color, is that the same as overprinting a 50% tint of black?


2 Answers 2


Theres a good reason you can make tints but not shades with a single spot color. The sliders in your color all represent a different ink, and a Pantone color is printed with a single ink, hence the single slider. A printer can achieve printed tints with a single ink by essentially printing differently spaced dots, like so (bottom swatches are how you see them in InDesign or Illustrator, top swatches are how they are printed):

Preview vs Printed Tints

Now you obviously can't print shades with the same technique and a single ink (unless you're printing on a black base), so the only option is to add another ink.

This is roughly the result you want printed:

Printed Shades

Now that looks exactly like a printed tint over a black base, but if you layer a tinted color over a black base in InDesign or Illustrator you will only see the tint.

A quick way to preview your shades is to overlay black and use blending modes. These shades are made by overlaying "tints" of black set to "Multiply" over the solid Pantone:

Preview Shades with Mulitply

The problem is printers don't generally like transparency and blending modes with Pantones.

What you should do is overlay solid blacks in the same way but instead of using blending modes set the blacks to overprint in the attributes panel and turn on overprint preview (View → Overprint Preview):


Using increasing amounts of black set to overprint, you get shades like so:

Overprint Shades

Illustrator's Appearance Panel

A quick tip to achieve your overprinted black in Illustrator is to use the Appearance panel and add an additional black fill to the same object, so theres no need for layering multiple objects. You can then set the black fill to overprint by selecting it in the Appearance panel and checking "Overprint Fill" in the Attributes panel exactly as you would for a single object.

Illustrator Overprint Fill

InDesign Mixed Ink Swatches

Mixed ink swatches in InDesign can also be used to create shades by mixing your spot color with a process black.

You can create a series of shades by selecting "New Mixed Ink Group..." from the swatches panel menu and selecting your spot color and Process Black. Set your spot color to 100 and your black to whatever increment you want to increase your shades in:

New Mixed Ink Swatch Group

You then have predefined shades as individual swatches you can use in your document:

Swatch Shades

The most important thing is, as always, to talk to your printer and see what they suggest and how they want you to supply your artwork and get printed samples first.


"Shades" can come in three flavors.

1) Shades of lighter color of the Pantone. You can prepare a swatch in Illustrator using the same Pantone but changing the transparency on different nodes.

In Photoshop you can inclusive use a grayscale photo and use a "Duotone" with only one ink.

2) The same color but darker... Ouch. You can only do that using an additional ink. Make a swatch of black and put it Over the object containing the original pantone using multiply to preview the result.

This is tricky, you need to ask the printer to "overprint" them. Black is very dominant, so be careful on the amounts, and some tests might be needed.

In Photoshop you use the same grayscale image and use two inks. You can modify the curves to have different shades.

3) Using different colors. A shade from yellow to red is the same process as 2. But you can have some smoother palettes.

There are alternative workarounds, like making a Photoshop multichannel, etc.

  • Thanks for being thorough. I was going for the traditional "art" definition of shade (color + black), so I'll definitely look into number 2.
    – vpn
    Aug 6, 2016 at 22:52

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