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What’s the difference between CMYK and RGB?

Learn why we use CMYK for print and what RGB should be used for.

CMYK and RGB colour modes

When it comes to designing and printing, there are a host of things to consider. There’s the paper types, paper size, DPI and of course getting your brand identity just right. On top of all that, there’s colour. In today’s blog, we’ll explain everything you need to know about colour in printing and what’s the difference between CMYK and RGB.

Table of Contents

What is CMYK and RGB?

CMYK and RGB are two different colour systems. When and where you should choose which colour system to use? When you’re designing artwork for the web, whether it’s a funky logo for your website or a cool banner for your social media page, you generally don’t need to worry about colour modes since they all look similar on every computer monitor.

When it comes to printing however, the colours you see on screen often won’t reflect exactly what will come out of the printer. This is where the two colour modes CMYK and RGB come in.

RGB is the colour scheme coupled with electronic display screens such as camera, TV’s, smartphones and the computer monitor you’re likely looking at right now. CMYK on the other hand is the colour mode used by printers that ultimately end up on the paper stock of your coloured printed design.

What is the difference between CMYK and RGB?

As we explained above, CMYK is the colour scheme used by printers and is made up of the four colours listed below. It is known as a subtractive colour profile which means they begin with white (paper) and end with black aka, as you add colour the result gets darker.

C = Cyan
M = Magenta
Y = Yellow
K = Black

cmyk colour mode

Following suit, RGB, the colour mode used for electronic display screens, is made up of the three colours listed below. This is known as an additive colour profile which begins as black until red, green and blue light is added on top of each other to brighten and create specific colours.

R = Red
G = Green
B = Blue

rgb colours
Play Video about CMYK and RGB

Why CMYK vs RGB is Important

One of the biggest issues we find our clients have when designing for print is not understanding why the difference between CMYK and RGB is so important. Many will unintentionally create a print design using the RGB colour mode and then be confused as to why their final product doesn’t look the same as what it did on their computer monitor.

One of the biggest differences between CMYK and RGB is the way they present the colour blue. Typically, blue will appear brighter when presented in RGB compared to CMYK. The same can also be said for greens. 

For this reason, it’s important to ensure you are designing in the correct colour mode depending on the role of your project. For digital mediums, you will always want to use RGB but for those designing for print, the CMYK colour model is recommended.

How to Convert RGB to CMYK

InDesign: This is one of the better programmes to use when designing for print since it is usually already set to CMYK. To create a new document in CMYK colour mode, navigate to File > New > Document and then fill out your project details.

Indesign CMYK colour mode

Illustrator: In Illustrator, you will need to convert to CMYK either by creating a new file or by heading to File > Document Colour Mode > Select CMYK Colour.

Illustrator CMYK Setup

Photoshop: This is one of the most popular programmes to use for designing print items, and thankfully converting your designs to CMYK is easy. Photoshop defaults to RGB so to covert, go to File > New and then switch the colour most to CMYK.

If you’re wanting to convert an image from RGB to CMYK, then once you’ve opening the image in Photoshop, navigate to Image > Mode and then select CMYK.

Photoshop colour mode CMYK

If you require any assistance converting colour modes for printing, you can also get in touch with the Print Stafford team.

When to use CMYK

Here are some of the most common uses for using CMYK colour:

  • Business cards
  • Business stationery
  • Signs
  • Posters
  • Flyers
  • Leaflets
  • Brochures
  • T-shirt designs
  • Product packaging
  • Menus

When to use RGB

Here are some of the most common uses for using RGB colour:

  • Online logos
  • Website buttons
  • Online graphics
  • Online adverts
  • Social media banners
  • Profile pictures
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Photographs

At Print Stafford, we know the importance of conveying your brand image professionally and properly, so if you require any assistance get in touch with the Print Stafford team today.