The Color Printer


Published in 1892 by Cincinnati printer John Franklin Earhart, The Color Printer, A Treatise on the Use of Colors comprises hundreds of illustrations that showcase how just a handful of colors can be mixed and combined to print a rich palette, suitable for printing a wide variety of materials.

  1. Scan of the cover
  2. Scan of the introduction
  3. Scan of a page about complementary colors
  4. Scan of the 12 main colors
  5. Scan of mixtures
  6. Scan of tints
  7. Scan of overprinted colors
  8. Scan of a color wheel
  9. Scan of two-color combinations
  10. Scan of multicolor combinations
  11. Scan of a flyer specimen
  12. Scan of overprinted colors and combinations

Hailed as “one of the greatest typographic works on color ever published,” Earhart worked on his treatise for 4 years and used 625 type formes to make 1,625,000 impressions for the few copies that were published. He detailed his methodology for using 12 inks (plus white) to create more than 1,000 unique mixtures of 2 or 3 colors and chose the 166 best mixtures to showcase using ornate illustrations that demonstrated the effects of printing in solid colors, halftones, tints, and overprints. Additionally, he included many specimens of using combinations of these colors such as ornate illustrations, flyers, and business cards. The end of the treatise includes printing advice and an extensive list of color combinations and their level of quality when used.

John Franklin Earhart (1853–1938)

John Earhart portrait
John Earhart

Little more than brief biographies are available for Earhart. The Cincinnati Art Galleries has a great summary of his life, included below:

“John Earhart was born near Columbus, Ohio. He was noted for his innovations in painting and printing techniques. He joined the University of Cincinnati faculty in 1925 and he taught the theory of color there until his retirement in 1939. As a young man he obtained a position in the job printing department of the Ohio State Journal. In 1883 he incorporated the Earhart Printing Company and between 1888–1892 he formed the firm of Earhart and Richardson. They were known internationally for the Color Printer.”—Cincinnati Art Galleries

Additional reading

Digital Edition

This site is a digital edition of The Color Printer based on three sets of scans freely available on the Internet Archive. None of the sets was without its faults, but when combined, they served as excellent source material.

  • Scan 1: Good quality, slightly off colors, includes all pages
  • Scan 2: Best quality, heavily altered colors, missing the end of color combinations, plate 90, and sections with printing advice
  • Scan 3: Low quality, slightly off colors, includes all pages
Scan of original 12 colors
Scan of original 12 colors
Digitally reproduced 12 colors
Reproduced colors for digital edition

Restoring antique colors is not an easy task—especially when attempting to restore printed colors in a digital medium. Since there isn’t a single point of reference for how the colors looked when they were originally printed, some liberties were taken to achieve a restoration that is as true as possible to what it is thought Earhart intended. The main colors from Scan #3 above were modified to be more vibrant but still retaining a feel of antiqueness to feel more authentic. These settings were then applied to all other pages to consistently sample the remaining colors. More extensive details about how it was made can be found in the accompanying blog post.

How it was made

Licensing & Corrections

The restored illustrations have been released under the CC0 1.0 Universal public domain license and can be used freely without any restrictions. The design of the site and posters are copyright Nicholas Rougeux.

Every effort has been made to create an accurate digital edition but errors can still slip through. Corrections are welcomed and they will be reviewed.

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