The Pantone CMYK Guide has colours which have values as follows: CMYK = 0,25,56,8 The total does not add up to 100, therefore how to interpret these values into percentages?

  • 3
    CMYK values do not have to add up to 100; they're individual percentages, not total percentages. The ink mixture is not made using the CMYK values. Jul 12, 2017 at 6:48
  • What do you mean by "interpret these values as percentages"? What are you actually trying to do?
    – Cai
    Jul 12, 2017 at 6:50
  • @Janus Bahs Jacquet - I'm not a print guy really, so please enlighten me (may be a dumb question) what makes up the rest of the mixture? Jul 12, 2017 at 7:15
  • 2
    @mayersdesign The Pantone guides have definitions for ink mixing. The names of each ink are completely different from the four CMYK names (and often quite silly if you ask). The point is that Pantone colours cannot be made with CMYK ink—they're made with special Pantone ink (and that's done by the printer, not you). The CMYK values are just approximations that will give you the closest resemblance in CMYK. Jul 12, 2017 at 7:18
  • @JanusBahsJacquet You are absolutely right but can you explain how to calculate the combination of the 4 inks of CMYK which have to be taken for a Pantone Colour for which only the CMYK values are given. Without those values I will not know how to make the mixture. Please explain.
    – Arpan Jain
    Jul 23, 2017 at 4:25

4 Answers 4


CMYK colours rarely will add up to 100, and there is no reason they should.

Each of the numbers in CMYK (xx,xx,xx,xx) ARE percentages of coverage of each colour, Not ratios of the total.

A lot will be well under, take a very light magenta colour (light pink if you ilke) could be 00,10,00,00

Some will be over 100, take a really strong green: 50,00,100,00

When designing for print, many printers will specify a maximum - this is to negate drying issues, bleed, transfer between sheets etc...

You see, CMYK printing, (Inkjet, offset Litho, Laser etc) vary the intensity of each colour on the white page by laying down a percentage cover, this could be fine lines, small dots or other patterns - the percentage figure of each colour is basically the amount of colour vs white space in a particular area.


Pantone colours are what are known as "Spot colours" which are designed to be printed alone, not overlaid with others, and in the Pantone Formula Guides, these ink mix formulas ARE specified as percentages!

enter image description here

You can convert (well emulate) Pantone colours into CMYK for use in other printing processes, but accuracy may suffer.

  • Nice reply but I yet don't understand what mixture of ink to be taken for CMYK separately so as to make a corresponding Pantone colour for which the CMYK values are given. I don't know how to calculate the composition of the 4 inks.
    – Arpan Jain
    Jul 23, 2017 at 4:23
  • You can't calculate CMYK yourself from a formula guide. Illustrator has pantone swatches with CMYK values pre assigned. Jul 23, 2017 at 7:25
  • I have the Pantone CMYK guide. This guide has CMYK values for each Color. So how do I calculate the percentages from these values ?
    – Arpan Jain
    Jul 23, 2017 at 12:30
  • It doesn't work like that: You realise that mixing CMYK inks together before print isn't going to give you the required colour?? Jul 23, 2017 at 12:41
  • I am not sure how to do that. As of now I only have the Pantone CMYK guide which gives the CMYK values for each Color. How should I proceed on this ?
    – Arpan Jain
    Jul 23, 2017 at 16:48

CMYK guides are not a formula guide. CMYK percentages and CMYK process inks are not used for mixing solid colour inks.

Pantone makes a special Colour formula guide for mixing solid inks. That's what you need. See here - in fact you don't need to mix these inks at all, that's your printers job. Leave it to the professionals.

All your printer needs from you is the Pantone number.


A CMYK colour guide is a systematic display of the colours obtained from printing the four basic process colours: cyan, magenta, cyan, and black.

In use, a sample is compared to the colour patches printed in the colour guide, then after a match is found, identify clearly the combination of process colours that closely match your sample.

A good-quality colour guide is printed on the actual press used by the printer. It is a press proof. It can be printed on coated and uncoated stock so differences in coatings can be anticipated. It can be varnished and unvarnished, in addition to all the foregoing.

Each page of the guide has an arrangement of various percentages of the ink combinations arranged in rows and columns. One hue is in columns increasing by steps from 0 to solid (100%). A second hue is in rows increasing by steps from 0 to solid (100%). A third hue is printed aligned with the above grid by page increasing by increments of 10% from 0 on the first page to solid (100%) on the last page.

This 10-page colour guide contains 1000 different colours over 10 pages of 100 colours.
In this "example" colour guide, each of the patches are labeled with the C, M, and Y percentage.
Under one such patch, one might select a colour. It might be identified as C-30, M-0, Y-30. These are percentage screens (tints) of the process colours printed on a white paper stock.
This means, the colour break for the patch is 30% Cyan and 30% Yellow which is a pale green.

Meanwhile; A Pantone System Printer's Edition shows Pantone colours with a Pantone Matching System index number along with a "recipe" to mix the colour using different amounts of the proprietary Pantone "basic" colours.

In use, you could fulfill your burning desire for Pantone 393U by mixing 4 parts Pantone Yellow, ⅛ part Pantone Green, and 60 parts white and then printing a solid patch of this on uncoated paper stock.

The CMYK colour guide mixes colours by screen tints overprinted upon one another. The Pantone formula guide is a chromatically organized spot colours by ink formulations.


Can it be done like this?

Suppose the formula is C:10, M:70, Y:15, K:5. I could take a leap here and say that C:10 could be described as 10% Cyan and 90% Transparent White for the 100% needed. And so on for the rest of the formula. If there are 4-100%-mixes, then the percentage formula for each CMYK color would be:

C=10/100=2.5%, M=70/400=17.5%, Y=15/400=3.75%, K=5/400=1.25%. The rest is filled with transparent white.

Resulting in this mixing formula:
TW= 75%

Just a theory, haven't tested it out. If you do, comment back.

  • CMYK printing is layering halftone or stochastic patterns of each ink to, as whole, make the illusion of a color on paper. It doesn't follow linear math, but has to be measured to be predictable. Mixing fluid CMYK inks with white works in another way. Here the pigments of the inks are actually mixed to a compound. The resulting color depends on an array of factors (not my expertise). Also highly non-linear. So to make a theoretical conversion between those two seems impossible.
    – Wolff
    Aug 20, 2021 at 23:28
  • No there is no guarantee it works. Depends on pigment which is why the mixing guide exists in firstplace.
    – joojaa
    Aug 21, 2021 at 7:38
  • CMYK colours are not "mixed" to make Pantone spot colours. There's a Pantone formula guide for mixing spot colours. Also there's a Pantone Color Bridge guide for matching Spot to CMYK colours. CMYK process inks aren't used as the base colours for mixing spot colours.
    – Billy Kerr
    Aug 21, 2021 at 10:38
  • Gilberto, your answer makes me realize why someone could "need" to do this color exploration. Your numbers are not right, so I will prepare an answer by doing some math. 😉
    – Rafael
    Aug 21, 2021 at 19:15

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