CMYK colour chart

ill sans's picture

CMYK colour charts always seem to be spread over several diagrams with one colour's percentage fixed (eg. C horizontally, M vertically & Y fixed). Is there a reason for that? Does anyone know if there has already been a full userfriendly chart made that displays all possible variations in one diagram?

ebensorkin's picture

I have explored this kind of thing and I found that the only way to get a reasonble idea of what a color would look like would be to print a huge sheet or many smaller ones - the reason being that you need about an inch x and inch of color to see what your getting ( okay maybe a bit smaller...); and you need steps of 5%. Sometimes you need to dial things more tightly still. That adds up to a hell of a lot of squares.

There are companies that specialize in color management that sell sheets that are meant to help in a process that callibrates your documents to a given printing response. I actually built one for a VERY screwy color laser. It was a nightmare but an interesting one.

Why do you want this one sheet to rule them all anyway?

ill sans's picture

I challenged myself to put all variations in one userfriendly (which was the biggest challenge) diagram & managed to do so. I just wanted to check if this kind of diagram already exists because I've never seen anything like that. Do you have a link for these sheets so I can compare them to mine?
And here I am, thinking I was about to win the Nobelprize for graphic design :-)

AndrewSipe's picture

Tom are you going to share your handy work with the rest of us?!

ill sans's picture

I want to check if it already exists first (just for copyright reasons).
I can tell you that it makes a nice poster for the office though ;-)
I've only made a scaled down version with percentages of 25, but the concept can be applied to other percentages as well. I have to be honest that it took me quite a while to figure out a system in which you can immediately identify each percentage without having any doubles. I've already started thinking of a system for RGB which will probably be even trickier. I'm also thinking of a variation of my CMYK chart, but I'm still working on that.
As soon as I know it already exists (or as soon as my copyright is assured) I'll share my "secret recipe" with the rest of you here.
After Eben's reply I googled for CMYK colour sheets, but I still haven't found anything that resembles mine, so I'm still rooting for that Nobelprize ;-)

KenBessie's picture

I'm very interested in your chart. I'd love to see it posted when you're ready.

Graphics Master by Dean Phillip Lem contains a "Process Color Selector Guide" printed on coated and uncoated stocks, with percentages of 10%. (I have the second edition, printed in 1977). From your description, Lem's work doesn't resemble yours.

Good luck with that Nobel prize :-)

ill sans's picture

I already contacted SABAM today for information about copyright and/or a patent. The moment I know I'm "protected", I'll post an example along with an explanation of how the idea came about.

Jackie Frant's picture

More than 10 years ago, my husband put one together for Stevenson Photol Color Co. in Ohio. Recently, I got a little program called Art Directors Toolkit. What a pleasant surprise, and very useful. Not only does it help with exact measurements for layouts, has colors for swatches - and for blends. Lets you get an idea for a color overprint - as opposed to knockout. It may be several years late in the coming, but still a gem.

You can read about it here:

but I'm probably late to the party, and all of you knew about this already - right?

ebensorkin's picture

I found the old files but the test sheets don't cover 100% of the range just some reference points and some 'hard to get right' colors. They were for calibration not for general reference.
I also found my old files they are overly precise, taking steps in 1% increments. Perhaps I should release them.... maybe one day. I also have a book called "Process Color Manual, 24,000 CMYK Combinations for Design, Prepress, and Printing" by Pat Rogondino & Michael Rogondino. It has maybe 50 pages or so and I think it uses the 5% jumps and covers the whole range from 0 to 100 in a fairly sequential manner.

Thinking about what you have described I am puzzled. Jumps of 25% seem awfully big to me. So how does it go? 0, 25, 50, 100? Have I understood you? It seems like 5 or 10% jumps would have far more utility.

Still, I am interested to see what you made. I can send you some of the files I have if you are interested.

ill sans's picture

I just used the 0-25-50-75-100% range as a test. It's an easier & quicker way to make a prototype & easier to check for potential flaws. As I already said earlier, it took me quite a while to make a userfriendly (I can't stress this enough) diagram in which all possible varations are shown without repeating a single one. Obviously, there's a lot of black, but that's because every combination with 100% black & the 100% CM&Y all make black. I haven't checked Jackie's link yet, but until now I haven't found any CMYK colour chart that covers everything in one scheme unless maybe it just "sums them up" with the percentages printed in the colours themselves, but in that case it's not really a diagram & can not be used as such.
If anyone has any links to companies that make colour charts, please post them here. If I can't find anything similar, I'm considering pitching my idea to these companies.
The "Lukacs CMYK colour chart", I kind of like the ring of that ;-p

aluminum's picture

I'm confused as to how a color swatch chart can be patented. That said, there are some insane patents being approved these days.

If you made it, it's yours. You own the copyright.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

ill sans, I too am curious about your chart, though I am joining in late. I don't want to be a party pooper, but my understanding is that a color chart's usefulness is limited due to the fact that a laser printer's output varies according to many factors, such as humidity and temperature. Having said that, I am still curious about your chart and would love to see it. :-)

ill sans's picture

It's not really the colour chart itself that I'm trying to "protect" for now, but the idea of the diagram itself. It's the first diagram I know of that displays 4 different values for each element. The concept might even have its use in maths or science. I used the CYMK colour chart as a jumping off point (putting all combinations; hue, saturation & brightness included in one -here we go again- userfriendly chart), but it's basically really about unfolding a 3D-model to a simple 2D chart.

Jackie Frant's picture

This was on line
It is a typical CMYK color chart

Here is a tattooer that made up their own: (and it's a bit different)

If you just go to yahoo or google and type in CMYK color chart - you'll be amazed at all the other examples that pop up - including the books on this topic... like tintbooks...

ill sans's picture

Thanks for the links everyone, but I'm afraid some of you are not quite getting my point. Jackie, your CMYK charts are the ones I've seen before (as mentioned in my original post), but it's really about getting àll possible combinations in òne (supersized obviously) chart that allows you to read 4 different values (the percentages of CMYK) without having any doubles. It's the idea behind the diagram what it's really about. In every CMYK chart I've seen so far, there's always one fixed percentage (usually Y), but in my chart all percentages of all colours are variable. I have found a way to unfold a 3D-model to a userfriendly 2D-diagram & I'm just trying to find out if this kind of thing has been done before. It may seem implausible & even quite arrogant of me to think that I might be the first one to come up with this diagram, but until now all Google sessions & links here seem to imply that indeed this kind of thing hasn't been made yet. Maybe nobody ever bothered to do so & everybody was quite happy with the colour charts spread over several pages & diagrams or maybe -and I might come off a little arrogant again here- I'm the first one to succesfully do it.
It started off as a colour chart, but it is now really about the diagram and not the colours. All diagrams that I've seen so far have two axes (X & Y) & only display two values for each element. Mine displays 4 different values for each element & that's what I'm hoping is something new. It's very hard to explain without the diagram itself to illustrate what I'm talking about, but since I'm hoping this might be a discovery, I'm trying to "protect" my copyrights and what not before giving it away. As soon as my rights have been assured, I'll post an example here to illustrate my point with a brief explanation of how it came about.

Jackie Frant's picture


It sounds like you've made yourself quite a design project, that unlike so many others, may actually benefit printers and designers.

Best wishes with it - I hope when it's done - copyrighted, secured - you'll share it with us.

kentlew's picture

It’s not really the colour chart itself that I’m trying to “protect” for now, but the idea of the diagram itself.

I'm hate to disappoint you, but ideas or concepts cannot be copyrighted. You can only copyright the specific expression of an idea or concept in tangible form. So you can get a copyright on your chart (once it is produced and published), but you can't copyright the idea, and not in advance.

You may be able to get some limited patent protection for your idea, if you can present it as an invention. The term of protection is more limited and the application process will be more difficult.

Good luck.

-- Kent.

ill sans's picture

Thanks for your best wishes! I'm still anxiously waiting for SABAM's reply (which I probably won't get until monday), but if indeed I can't copyright the idea, I still might get the diagram named after me & that would look quite nice on my resume ;-) I'm honestly completely clueless about copyrights & patents, but the sheer thought of maybe having discovered something new is absolutely thrilling. My selfconfidence grows with every new post here & I'm actually starting to think I might have an innovation in my hands that is not only usefull for colour charts, but might actually benifit the mathmetical/scientific world as well.
Again, if anyone knows of any companies that might be interested, please post them here. I might be able to sell my idea.

kentlew's picture

If you end up getting it produced and put a unique name on it, you might be able to trademark the name (depending upon what you call it). So, that could be of some value.

-- K.

ill sans's picture

Well, actually the name diagram is incorrect, so I'm going to try selling it as the "Lukacs quartogram" or something similar. It would be nice to have some kind of legacy and have your name live on after you & at least this way I won't have to worry about sending my legacy off to college someday ;-)

blank's picture

Thanks for the links, Jackie. I spent an hour trying to dredge something like that up a few days ago with no luck.

KenBessie's picture

If the "Lukacs quartogram" falls through, you could maybe design a typeface and name it after yourself. We know how the copyright works on that. :)

aluminum's picture

"I’m trying to “protect” my copyrights and what not before giving it away."

If you made it, you HAVE the copyright.

As to whether or not it's a patentable idea, only $$$ and a patent lawyer will help you with that. ;o)

That said, you appear to be in Belgium. I really have no idea how patents and copyrights work over there.

ill sans's picture

Neither do I, but there's an organisation here (I don't know if it's internationally known) that guides you through copyright related issues called SABAM & I've already sent them an email asking them what to do next. I'll probably have an answer on monday & until then I'm just going to sit on it & keep my fingers crossed that it won't turn out that somebody already beat me to it. Like I said before, it seems very implausible that I would actually be the first one to come up with a "quartogram", but so far everything seems to indicate that I am (knock on wood!). And if so, then it would be nice to somehow get the recognition for it in its name for instance.

ebensorkin's picture

I think the queston you have to resolve is if you can pack a reasonable amount of samples onto one sheet. I think you will have to make it into a poster to have any chance of that. I also don't think that the value of the poster ( assuming I a correct ) will neccesaily be greater than a well designed booklet. Perhaps your idea can play out wihin a booklet instead. I would be more willing to buy a great booklet han a poster.

In any event I would bet that your fame if there is some will result from the utility of the object itself not from the virtue of the idea itself. Still, my skepticism aside I do hope you have success with this and I would echo what other people said about pursuing a patent quesrry if you really think you have something hyper-marketable.

If it was me I would be less concerned with patentability and more concerned with raw and actual market forces. I also think that feedback on your design and that improvment is likely to be of the greatest economic value of all. These are just my guesses of course.


timd's picture

Following Eben’s assumption – a book makes sense in terms of longevity/user friendliness, a poster would be more affected by environment, sunlight, dust etc. A user friendly addition (essential, really) is to include a grey (or neutral – possibly light on one side and dark on the other) frame that can be used to block out neighbouring colours.


ill sans's picture

Even in case of a 10% range it would turn out to be quite the wallfiller which would look nice, but indeed in time would be suffer from sunlight & dust. Basically I'm hoping that this kind of diagram can find its use in other fields & there is an orginasation in Belgium that subsidies scientific research (or so I've been told, I haven't checked it out yet). I'll wait for SABAM's reply first & later on might contact them to finance a potential patent.

ebensorkin's picture

Who were you think would use your diagramatic model beyond presspeople & designers? What qualities other than CMYK are you thinking of showing?

ill sans's picture

It might prove to be usefull in mathmatics or sciences. I'm not a scientist, but if it can be used to compress a CMYK-chart to one diagram, I'm pretty sure it could be usefull to combine other diagrams to a single one as well. I have no idea where else you would have to input 4 different values for each element, but maybe some scientist does?

wormwood's picture

I havn't given this much thought so I'm probably talking nonsense, but could the Lukac Quartogram work for RGB with Brightness as the 4th variable?

I'm really looking forward to seeing it.

Have you thought about calling it the Lukac Quadragram? Just a suggestion because dictionary definitions say quart is a unit of capacity and quarto is a page size.

ill sans's picture

I haven't decided on the name yet except for the Lukacs part ;-)
I have actually also considered quadri-/quadro- or quadragram. I'm working on a RGB-model right now, but it's a lot trickier. I'm a bit confused as to what you define as brightness... Isn't that just the percentages of RGB combined (the higher the percentages, the brighter)? The difficulty that I'm having with the RGB-model is that I don't have a 4th variable & 100 (%) can not be divided by 3 (colours). I'll probably end up with a few doubles in the model if I end up with anything at all. The only way I see it working now is by making a different model for each given percentage range, but again I can't seem to add the numbers up correctly so far. The only hope I can give you for now is that I'm a very stubborn person & I reàlly want to make an RGB-model as well ;-)

wormwood's picture

Sorry, too much wine. I said I was probably talking nonsense.

Obviously a percentage of R, G or B is the amount of brightness. Doh! (Slaps hand on forehead)

I think the Photoshop colour picker holds a clue. Spot the odd one out...


ill sans's picture

Maybe wine is the answer to my problems? ;-p

wormwood's picture

After a couple of bottles you could try an Elemental Quartogram...

Earth / Air / Fire / Water

75% Air + 25% Water = Cloud

50% Earth + 50 % Water = Mud

50% Fire + 25% Earth + 25% Air = ????


wormwood's picture

How about a Typographic Quartogram?

The categories could be Serif, Sans, Script and I'm not sure about the 4th.

It would be quite personal in choosing a font to represent a 100% purity of its category and what the scale of interpolation would be.

My mental type catalogue is not big enough to know if it would be possible to fill in the transitionary stages between the 4 categories but there do seem to be a lot of hybrid typefaces these days.

It might be a fun Typophile challenge.

ill sans's picture

I'll pass on that challenge ;-) The RGB chart is enough for now, but once I've posted an example here and an explanation of how to put 4 different values into one quadrigam (or whatever you want to call it), anyone is free to do with it what they want, but I don't think it will work as a font schedule though. I think it can only work with quantities of the same category and not for 4 different subdivisions... Either way, the alcohol is doing its work now & giving my mind a rest ;-p

Nick Job's picture

10% increments (from 0 - 100%) of all four process colours are going to give you 14,641 different coloured squares (a lot of them very black, which is why the tattoo guy only did up to 80% black). How you lay them out is going to hurt so I hope it is worth the pain.

ill sans's picture

Well, like stated before, it's about more than just a colour chart now. I have to admit that it might not proof very practical as a CMYK chart (unless with bigger leaps as in my prototype), but it was really about the challenge of being able to do it. And now, I'm just hoping somehow it can be useful as a way of compressing several diagrams into one.

elliot100's picture

This project reminds me of Visibone's colour charts which unwrap the RGB 3D colour cube in various ways:

I am very intrigued how you've unwrapped the 4D hypercube... if you want to find out if anything similar exists I would perhaps look in the directions of maths projections of this hypercube

ill sans's picture

Wow, that stuff is wày over my head ;-p
Actually, the idea behind my quadrigram is quite simple (which is probably why it took me a while to figure it out in the first place) & -unlike I myself wrongly stated above- it càn actually be used as a schedule for 4 subdivisions as well. It can be used in any way to give 4 different "values" to each element (or categorise an element into 4 different subcategories), but its practical use will most likely lie in maths, scientific or maybe economics as a way of compressing several diagrams into one.

ill sans's picture

I figured out a way to make an RGB-model as well, in steps of 17. It may seem a bit of an odd number for leaps, but this adds up to 4096 variations which can be translated to a 64x64 scheme. I was off on the wrong foot with this at first because I thought in measurements of 100 instead of 255 for each colour. BTW Why didn't anybody correct me on this? ;-p
I'm not really happy about using the same skeleton as for my CMYK-model & leaving one variable out, so I'm still going to try & put it in a triangular model which obviously makes more sense.
Meanwhile, I still haven't heard from SABAM yet, but I did contact the organisation that subsidies innovations... More news soon.

peterj's picture

As for naming, you could always switch to Greek and make it some variation of "tetragram," which the internets tell me is a word of four letters, or an abbreviation for the Hebrew god.

ill sans's picture

The name will be a last minute decision since I'm still waiting to see if this kind of thing already exists or not. So far, so good though & I have contacted several organisations to try and get this thing "patented". Knowk on wood!

yahhoo's picture

well you might like my cmyk chart hehe...each page increments of 5% = 400 swatches per page
1. the 6 pages that are only two color
2. the 21 pages of CMY only
3. THEN the same base 21 pages of CMY with 10% K
4 THEN " " " with 30 % K
thats roughly 27,200 if a guy wnated some really dark just go into "channels in illustrator with the 21 pages of CMY on your screen and add
whatever percent K (black that you like) i made three charts for my 54" $40k printer....a CMYK,a RGB(2800swatches), pantone bridge (I corrected pantones pdf chart which was in fact wrong)...all 3 yours for $30!! lie

ill sans's picture

It definitely looks great (especially the RGB-model)! My intention however was more "scientific" rather than practical... I wanted to put it all in one oversized chart WITH all percentages of black & WITHOUT any doubles (except for every combination with 100% K or the ones where all 3 C, M & Y percentages are 100%). I haven't really been doing anything with it lately, but I still have plans to post my idea in a iDepot online to assure my rights & then I'll post it here. But just to be on the safe side, don't hold your breath ;-) I've been working on too many things lately to even be bothered to pick this one up. More news will follow some day... probably.
BTW, I still haven't had any chance on the RGB-model, but again, I haven't been trying lately ;-)

ill sans's picture

I have to be honest & admit that I got bored with trying to find where to go to with this idea & kind of forgot about the whole thing until I was recently going through my archives. Since I don't really see myself picking up on that search I figured I might as well let you all in on my 'secret' (you've been patient enough ;-)).

Here's what the Quadrigram looks like with percentages of 25:

As you can (hopefully) see in the quadrigram the values for black, cyan, magenta & yellow are read respectively on the left, top, bottom & right side.

Here's how it's done:

To put 4 variables into one chart you need to create 4 axes to read your values from. Average diagrams use only one X-axis & one Y-axis making no use of the top & right space as far as value input goes.
Having 2 horizontal (X1 & X2) & 2 vertical (Y1 & Y2) axes creates the need for different calibrations. This can be achieved by making use of small & big 'squares' for values for both axes (horizontally as well as vertically). The first thing you need to do is figure out the top value of one of your axes (for percentages it's obvious, but in this example I will use a top value of 4).

For the second axis we need to divide each seperate value into these 4 steps; in this case creating 5 blocks (0,1,2,3 & 4) of paired values 0-4.

Now we do the same with the vertical axes to create a raster of big squares & one of small squares merged together & we'll thus be able to read 4 different values for each point (in the example the values for the coloured square are 3 for X1, 1 for X2, 3 for Y1 & 2 for Y2).

This method can be used for any kind of chart that needs to combine 4 different variables although for other charts it will lose the 'flowing' line that gives a first good impression of what to expect when reading the chart. Still it can be used to compress all information into one userfriendly chart.

oldnick's picture

FWIW, your charts ought to exclude any combination of colors which exceeds 260% (e.g., 100C 20Y 100M 40K) because, if you run higher percentages through an offset press, the ink will never dry...

JamesM's picture

I have a reference book that has all printable CYMK combinations in 5% increments. It must be tens of thousands of swatches. If you tore out the pages you could wallpaper a wall. Can't conceive of fitting it into a poster.

oprion's picture


Funny enough, I've actually made a similar chart with the 260% range marked out in the past!

Theunis de Jong's picture

Interesting, so I wrote an Illustrator CS4 Javascript (save as "CmykSpread.jsx") that draws the above :-)
Select any four-pointed object (not limited to rectangles!) and run the script. It should create something like the above, or -- it took me two days to get the linear interpolation working -- something like this from a free-form four-point object:

I added Oprion's ink limit warning because that's a real good idea.

---- (snip script below) ----
//DESCRIPTION:Convert Rectangle to CMYK Spread
// Jongware, 15-Jul-2010
if (app.documents.length > 0 && app.selection.length == 1 && app.selection[0]"PathItem" && app.selection[0].pathPoints.length == 4)
sel = app.selection[0];
steps = prompt ("Number of steps (1..100)", 5);
if (steps != null)
inklimit = prompt ("Ink limit (percentage)", 260);
if (inklimit != null)
inklimit = Number(inklimit);
steps = Number(steps);
if (steps >= 1 && steps < 100)
doc = app.activeDocument;
p0 = app.selection[0].pathPoints[0].anchor;
p1 = app.selection[0].pathPoints[1].anchor;
p2 = app.selection[0].pathPoints[2].anchor;
p3 = app.selection[0].pathPoints[3].anchor;
dx = (p1[0] - p0[0])/(steps*steps);
dy = (p1[1] - p0[1])/(steps*steps);
dlx = (p3[0] - p0[0])/(steps*steps);
dly = (p3[1] - p0[1])/(steps*steps);
drx = (p2[0] - p1[0])/(steps*steps);
dry = (p2[1] - p1[1])/(steps*steps);
xl = p0[0];
yl = p0[1];
xr = p1[0];
yr = p1[1];
white = new GrayColor();
white.gray = 0;
allpts = new Array();
for (v=0; v<=steps*steps; v++)
xp = xl;
yp = yl;
dx = (xr-xl)/(steps*steps);
dy = (yr-yl)/(steps*steps);
ln = new Array();
for (h=0; h<=steps*steps; h++)
ln.push (Array(xp,yp));
xp += dx;
yp += dy;
allpts.push (ln);
xl += dlx;
yl += dly;
xr += drx;
yr += dry;
c = 0;
m = 0;
y = 0;
k = 0;
for (v=0; v<steps*steps; v++)
c = 100*(v % steps)/(steps-1);
m = 100*Math.floor(v / steps)/(steps-1);
for (h=0; h<steps*steps; h++)
y = 100*(h % steps)/(steps-1);
k = 100*Math.floor(h / steps)/(steps-1);
myPath = Array (
p = doc.pathItems.add();
p.setEntirePath (myPath);
p.closed = true;
p.filled = true;
p.stroked = false;
color = new CMYKColor();
color.cyan = c;
color.magenta = m;
color.yellow = y; = k;
p.fillColor = color;
if (c + m + y + k > inklimit)
p.stroked = true;
p.strokeColor = white;
p.strokeWidth = 0.5;
p = doc.pathItems.add();
p.setEntirePath (Array(allpts[v][h], allpts[v+1][h+1]));
p.closed = false;
p.filled = false;
p.stroked = true;
p.strokeColor = white;
p.strokeWidth = 0.5;
p = doc.pathItems.add();
p.setEntirePath (Array(allpts[v+1][h], allpts[v][h+1]));
p.closed = false;
p.filled = false;
p.stroked = true;
p.strokeColor = white;
p.strokeWidth = 0.5;
} else
alert ("Invalid number of steps -- please use between 1 (few) and 100 (lots)");
} else
alert ("Please select a template rectangle");

Theunis de Jong's picture

Okay, already needs a fix :-(

Change the CMYK calculation lines to this order

m = 100*(v % steps)/(steps-1);
y = 100*Math.floor(v / steps)/(steps-1);
c = 100*(h % steps)/(steps-1);
k = 100*Math.floor(h / steps)/(steps-1);

to get the classical cyan/magenta block in the 'white' corner. To get increments of 20%, use a step value of 6 (0%, 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, and 100% is six steps). The default '5' will show 25% increments.

Syndicate content Syndicate content