We present a simpler, more complete and versatile formulation for the effective cladding index of a solid-core photonic crystal fiber (PCF) with a triangular lattice of air holes in the cladding region. This index depends on two fundamental geometrical parameters: the air hole diameters and their separation in the endlessly single mode region of the PCF corresponding to a prescribed upper limit of relative air hole size as well as the wavelength of the light used. Our earlier available formulation for the normalized propagation constants of the infinite cladding region of the same PCF and hence its effective cladding index takes care only of the dependence on the relative air hole size and wavelength at a particular hole pitch. Now, the hole pitch dependence is also taken into account to make the formulation complete in all senses. The proposed new formulation is shown to be accurate on the basis of a comparison of our results with those obtained by available techniques. Further, to check its validity in different problems of practical interest, we apply our new formulation to evaluate various propagation characteristics of the PCF. On comparison with the previously available results, our results are seen to agree excellently with them. The formulation should find wide use for simple verification by system designers and users. © 2014 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.