In cancer biology, cell lines are often used instead of primary tumors because of their widespread availability and close reflection of the in vivo state. Cancer is a genetic disease, commonly caused by small- and large-scale DNA rearrangements. Therefore, it is essential to know the genomic profiles of tumor cell lines to enable their correct and efficient use as experimental tools. Here, we present a comprehensive study of the genomic profiles of 20 colon cancer cell lines combining conventional karyotyping (G-banding), comparative genomic hybridization (CGH), and multicolor fluorescence in situ hybridization (M-FISH). Major differences between the microsatellite instability (MSI) and chromosome instability (CIN) cell lines are shown; the CIN cell lines exhibited complex karyotypes involving many chromosomes (mean: 8.5 copy number changes), whereas the MSI cell lines showed considerably fewer aberrations (mean: 2.6). The 3 techniques complement each other to provide a detailed picture of the numerical and structural chromosomal changes that characterize cancer cells. Therefore, 7 of the cell lines (Colo320, EB, Fri, IS2, IS3, SW480, and V9P) are here completely karyotyped for the first time and, among these, 5 have not previously been cytogenetically described. By hierarchical cluster analysis, we show that the cell lines are representative models for primary carcinomas at the genome level. We also present the genomic profiles of an experimental model for tumor progression, including 3 cell lines (IS1, IS2, and IS3) established from a primary carcinoma, its corresponding liver- and peritoneal metastasis from the same patient. To address the question of clonality, we compared the genome of 3 common cell lines grown in 2 laboratories. Finally, we compared all our results with previously published CGH data and karyotypes of colorectal cell lines. In conclusion, the large variation in genetic complexity of the cell lines highlights the importance of a comprehensive reference of genomic profiles for investigators engaged in functional studies using these research tools.