Thursday, January 21, 2016

RGB vs CMYK and Why It's Important to Printing and Design

RGB CMYK Color Model Profile

When someone starts work in graphic design, or just enters that world, they run into something they might not have heard of before; CMYK. CMYK is a color model that is used a lot in the graphic design and printing industry. It’s different from the typical RGB mode that your home printer or computer monitor uses, and it’s important you understand the differences.


We’ll start by looking at what each printing style means before moving on to more difficult things. RGB is literally an acronym for “Red, Green, Blue” and CMYK is “Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black”, which for some reason is represented as “K”. The visible color spectrum is made up of the three primary colors of red, green and blue. These three colors combined make up pretty much every other color. So why choose CMYK? CMYK gives us more defined colors and gives us some better looking colors. So there are people who prefer to use CMYK over RGB, especially in commercial printing. You open yourself up to more possibilities by introducing the fourth factor.

Which Should You Choose?

Which one you choose is really up to you and the client that you’re working for. What is important to know is that there are some colors in RGB that a CMYK printer will have trouble with. If the printer that you’re working with is a CMYK one, it’s very important that the color mode you design in is also CMYK. The reverse is also true. If you’re working with an RGB printer you need to work with an RGB color profile. Failure to do so will result in poorer quality images and colors that just look wrong and do not match your design proof. Some printers and clients will insist that you work with CMYK, so listen to your client or pick the one that you think is best for your project. There is another aspect to this however; digital vs analog.

CMYK Printing vs RGB Printing

There is a noticeable difference between CMYK and RGB when you are printing things out physically. RBG work looks great on a computer monitor or handheld device, but CMYK looks better when printed. In fact almost every graphic design that will be printed physically will be printed using CMYK. This makes it very important that you work with CMYK, or at the very least convert any artwork that is to be printed into CMYK. The colors look better when printed than they would if they were RGB. So really that sums up which one you need to use when preparing marketing materials to be printed. If you are working entirely with digital art then you should use the RGB color mode. If you’re working with professional printed designs then you should use CMYK.

So there you have it. The basic difference between RGB and CMYK is the amount of colors and variants at your disposal. Which one you use depends on the purpose of your job and final use of the designed graphic. Digital graphics should be in RGB format. If your art is for a printed poster or something of that nature, then always work in CMYK color mode. Lastly, never let color mode converting ruin the way your graphics look by avoiding the converting process altogether and working with the right color mode from the get-go.

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