How to Use a PMS Mixing System to Mix Custom Gray Ink Colors  |

Gray is a popular color for screen printing. It’s great for printing neck tags and looks good on many colors of garments. Printers who choose gray for a design’s color scheme usually have to mix it themselves. Ink manufacturers may not carry a ready-to-print gray. If they do, there’s a chance it won’t be the shade you’re looking for. Good thing for mixing systems, right? Here’s how to mix your own perfect shade of gray screen printing ink.

A pantone book opened to the Gray section


The color gray is created by mixing different ratios of black and white. Adding a tiny bit of color will give a gray either a warm or cool tone. Warm gray will have a bit of orange, red, or yellow added to the black and white. Small additions of blue or purple will create cool shades of gray. 

Cool Gray 6 is the most popular shade of gray in screen printing. It’s perfect for printing neck tags because it won't show through the back of the shirt. This shade of gray also looks good when printed with just about anything on many colors of shirts. 

There are so many shades of gray to choose from. Open the Pantone Formula Guide book and you’ll see dozens of different grays, waiting to be mixed. The shade of gray you choose depends entirely on your — or your customer’s — taste. 

No matter which color of gray you choose, there’s an easy way to create it: a mixing system. Most ink lines have a mixing system. Take FN-INK™ for example. This line of ready-for-use, low-cure plastisol inks doesn’t just have a mixing system. It is a mixing system. Let’s walk through how to mix a color with the mixing system.


A mixing system with ink colors and a container sitting on a scale


To start mixing PMS colors with the FN-INK™ Mixing System, all you’ll need to pick up is a mixing white. The buckets of FN-INK™ on your shelves are already part of the mixing system.

As said before, some shades of gray have fewer ink colors in the formula. Cool Gray 6, for example, includes Mixing White, Black, and a tiny amount of Lemon Yellow. Some grays, however, use surprising colors you might not expect. Let’s mix one of those: Warm Gray 1. 

  1. Look up the color in the FN-INK™ Mixing System software. Pro tip: instead of scrolling through the hundreds of color options to find Warm Gray 1, you can type in the search bar to narrow down results. 
  2. Adjust the formula size to the amount you’ll need for the job and click “Load Formula.” 
  3. Gather the ink colors you’ll need. For Warm Gray 1, you’ll need a Mixing White, Royal Blue, Fuchsia, Golden Yellow, and Violet.
  4. Grab a scale, a mixing container, and an ink spatula. Place the container on the scale and zero out the scale. 
  5. Add the largest amount of color first. In this case, that’s Mixing White. Zero out the scale once you’ve added the correct amount of ink. Always add ink colors into the mix in descending order: the largest amount of ink to the smallest.
  6. The next largest amount of ink needed to mix is Royal Blue. Add the ink to the side of the container. That way you can remove some easily if needed. Zero out the scale again.
  7. Next, add Golden Yellow, followed by Fuchsia. Zero out the scale in between each color.
  8. Finally, add a tiny amount of Violet to the side of the container. 
  9. Mix the ink well, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides to include as much ink in the mix as possible.

Congratulations! You’ve mixed a custom PMS gray. Feels good, doesn’t it? And it was super easy.

A Pantone book opened to Gray with the ink colors in a container



If you’re not happy with the color you mixed or it looks a little off once you’ve printed it on a shirt, don’t panic. This can happen for a couple of different reasons. Here are a few pointers.

Always mix inks in a brightly-lit area. If you’re comparing a mixed PMS color to a swatch off your phone or computer screen, the mixed color may look different than the swatch depending on your screen settings. 

A color shift can happen if translucent ink is printed onto a dark garment, like Magenta screen printing ink on a black shirt. This can be helped by first printing an underbase or adjusting the ink color before it’s printed. Another way to minimize color shift is to flash each ink layer. This takes a bit of extra time, but the ink colors will stay closer to your expectations.

If you’re still not happy with the color, choose the Pantone color a shade darker in your Pantone book to make the color a little richer in saturation. Mix that color up and try again. Who knows? You might end up liking the darker shade better anyway.


A swirl of mixed Gray ink sits on a cleanup card with the Pantone match behind it

If you’re printing with a certain color of gray often, mixing up a larger batch is a good idea. Keep a container of Cool Gray 6 — or whatever your most popular gray is — on the shelf, so you can get straight to printing. Experiment with different shades of gray until you find one that you and your customer both like. With a mixing system, the only limit is your own creativity.

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