CMYK Colour Charts

Where to Buy CMYK Charts & Swatch Books

As a graphic designer I need to know how the colours I choose will print out when getting my design printed by commercial 4-colour offset print shops. When I pick a CMYK value I often refer to my colour guide to get an idea of how it will look on paper.

The best colour guides available to buy are the ones produced by Pantone, but these are expensive. I often get asked by fellow designers just starting out if there are cheaper alternatives, so I have compiled this list to help them out.

Note: Make sure to store any guide in a light proof place, like a desk drawer, to preserve the colour integrity as long as possible.

First up; the Pantone guides.

1. CMYK Color Guide Coated & Uncoated (SKU: GP5101)

Contains 2,868 CMYK swatches and their numerical percentage values. Comes as a set of two guides, one printed onto coated paper, and the other printed onto an uncoated stock.

Purchase directly from Pantone here, or they are slightly cheaper from Amazon US here, or Amazon UK here.

2. Pantone Color Bridge Set Coated & Uncoated (SKU: GP6102N)

I use these guides while designing logos because they show a side-by-side comparison of Pantone spot colours beside their closest CMYK match.

Purchase directly from Pantone here, or they are slightly cheaper from Amazon US here, or Amazon UK here.

Alternatives

The following CMYK guides are books available from Amazon that have CMYK charts printed with varying amounts of cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks. They are far cheaper than the above Pantone guides but should give a reasonable representation of what to expect when a colour is printed; better than nothing!

I have not seen the following books personally, so I don't know how good they actually are. I suggest you read the reviews before making any decision to purchase one.

3. Process Color Manual

This book contains 24,000 CMYK combinations. Each page features a colour chart in 5% increments, showing the changes as the CMYK balance changes. There are plenty of positive reviews for this book.

Buy from Amazon US here, or Amazon UK here.

4. CMYK Quick Pick Colour Catalogue

This book contains 2500 Colour swatches. On reading the description I was a bit confused about the coding used to find a particular CMYK value. It sounds like you will have to look up the CMYK value in the book index before being directed to the correct page and location of the colour swatch!

There were no customer reviews at the time of writing.

Buy from Amazon US here, or Amazon UK here.

5. The CMYK Bible

This CMYK colour swatch book has 36 full page colour charts with 5,184 reference samples, all printed to FOGRA standards on 170gsm silk paper.

It is a newly published book (2016), so it will be printed using up-to-date printing standards, unlike the other alternatives listed here.

This CMYK chart looks well laid out with percentage values in 10% increments on the axis of each chart making it easy to find the correct CMYK numbers.

And is a great price as well! Buy from Amazon UK here. Not listed at Amazon US unfortunately.

6. Color Index 2

I own the first volume of this book. It is not a CMYK colour chart like the books above, but gives colour combinations, useful for choosing interesting colour schemes for a design. The CMYK values are shown for each separate colour, so it is useful for seeing how a particular colour looks printed on paper.

Buy from Amazon US here, or Amazon UK here.

Note: In an ideal world, if you picked a CMYK value, you would expect it to look the same every time and everywhere it was printed; but this is not the case in real life unfortunately. Even with print shops following FOGRA standard practices there will still be deviations from the ideal press conditions that can lead to errors and slight variations in colour.