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InDesign and the Trumatch System

When people think about color swatch libraries, they almost always think about Pantone, but Pantone isn’t the only library out there and there may be good reasons you should consider others. For example… Trumatch!


First, it’s critical that you understand that most color swatch libraries are for spot colors — that is, colors that will be printed, on a printing press, with a custom ink. For example, my favorite Pantone color is 286, a gorgeous royal blue. If I want to print with 286C (the “c” stands for coated) then I have to tell my printer to use that color, they go and mix it up in the back room, and pour it into the press.

But some swatch libraries are for process colors — that is, they’re CMYK colors, printed with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks. Pantone does offer some CMYK libraries, including their Color Bridge libraries, which are designed to give you somewhat accurate CMYK representations of the Pantone spot colors.

The key to a color swatch library is that you can look in a preprinted book of color swatches, find the color you want, and then choose that same color in InDesign. Because you’re picking from a printed book, you know what the color will really look like. That avoids the age-old problem of “you can’t really trust what you see on screen, unless you spend a lot of effort doing color management.”

Choosing Trumatch

In the mid-90s, I was introduced to the Trumatch CMYK Colorfinder system, and I immediately realized its benefits. First, it’s easy to find just the right color you want in the very well-organized swatch book (or “fan guide” as they call it). Second, it’s easy to get that color into InDesign. And third, the book is less expensive than the Pantone equivalent.

As you use the Trumatch Colorfinder to select a color, you’ll notice that it is laid out in a very logical way, and uses a numbering code:

  • the numbers 1 to 50 reflect the hue families of CMY
  • the letters “a” through “h” choose steps of saturation (tints of hues)
  • the numbers 1 to 7 specify the steps of black (shades)

After you find a color, you can get it into InDesign’s Swatches panel in one of two ways. You could just make a normal CMYK color using the CMYK values listed in the book. Or, even easier, you could note the Trumatch code and use the Trumatch color library that is built in to InDesign: Choose New Color Swatch from the Swatches panel menu.

To use the built-in library, first choose New Color Swatch from the Swatches panel menu, and then choose Trumatch from the Color Mode pop-up menu. From there, you can type the code into the field, or just scroll through until you find the color you want:


Once you click OK, the color is added to your InDesign Swatches panel:


If you then find you want another color that is related to the first, you can easily pick it based on the code. For example, if I wanted a much lighter version of the same 18-a7 green I picked in the image above, I could choose 18-d.

Where to Find Trumatch

You can find the Trumatch Colorfinder books at the Trumatch site, or on

(Note: During the month of April 2014, you can get a free Trumatch fan guide when you sign up as a new annual member to InDesignSecrets. Some limitations apply! See this page for more information.)

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

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10 Comments on “InDesign and the Trumatch System

  1. Excellent article about a mostly underrated colour system. With a long background in printing, offset and digital, I would like to add that the choice of paper stock is also very crucial in achieving the desired results. I like Trumatch, it’s very well organized and once you get used to the colour definitions, it’s easier to browse than Pantone’s swatch books.

    • inkeye: Not really; if you want to simulate a Pantone spot color with process colors, you’d use one of the pantone process color libraries. Trumatch is designed for picking new CMYK colors for your document.

  2. The problem is that our printers use Pantone colors on their presses… For spot colors you have to stick with one system, Pantone probably still rules in most companies.
    It’s certainly true that there are some colors you cannot reproduce with CMYK, perhaps that is where Trumatch is better?

    • Yes, I would use Pantone for spot colors.

      Maybe I was not clear enough in the article above: Trumatch is for CMYK colors — process colors, not spot colors!

  3. My teacher says that the printing industry is stuck in Pantone, to use Pantone only, is it a special brand of ink that doesn’t relate to C M Y K, BUT ONLY FOR SPOT COLORS ? If I told a printer to use these specific “spot colors” and included the exact percentages of each needed color of C M Y and K, wouldn’t it turn out as I expected? Or would they say that they don’t mix that color, but to find out what “Pantone color” it is and well use the “spot color”made with pantone ink for it? Thanks, Dan

    • Dan: You might want to ask your teacher for some clarification. Pantone is a mixed ink system. Process colors are CMYK. If you are printing a process color job, the printer will expect c, m, y, and k. If you are printing a spot color job, the printer will expect spot color (probably Pantone) inks. Or, sometimes, people print CMYK + pantone.

  4. Just got my Trumatch color ‘fan guide’ (thanks to you, David!).

    I just wanted to make sure that there’s no difference in the output between choosing the generic CMYK values and choosing the Trumatch code.

    By the way, why on earth do they name the values in YMCK instead of CMYK? It just confuses me…

    • Ari: I believe many printers print in that order: yellow, magenta, cyan, and finally black. But I could be wrong. Maybe it’s some other reason. As for typing CMYK values vs. using their Trumatch code, it should be the same, though I have to admit that I usually just type in the CMYK values rather than the code.

  5. Hey I am looking to print Pantone 286C and I was just wondering have you found a good CMYK match? as I can’t afford to spot colour print as I am only printed 5 copies of a book, Thanks

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