Creating professional designs can be a little intimidating, especially when you hear so many technical-sounding acronyms, like RGB and CMYK
Even if you’ve come across these terms, it can be hard to be sure which option is best suited for your work. After all, when it comes to digital printing, choosing the right colour mode is equally as important as the design itself or the type of paper you’re going to use.
If you go for a wrong colour mode, you might end up with a result that doesn’t appear as you planned – and that is not what you want, especially when it can be easily avoided. But, not to worry. We’ve broken down the definitions and use cases of RGB and CMYK so that your digital designs end up true-to-life when printed from your production printer.
Short for Red, Green and Blue, RGB is a colour space created to be a standard for computer screens and the web. When you look through a strong magnifying glass at your TV, you’ll notice that every pixel consists of a red, green and blue sub-pixel.
When combined, these three colours can create a wide assortment of different colours. By adjusting values of the red, green, and blue channels between 0 and 255, you can achieve any colour in the rainbow, including with greys, whites, and blacks.
If your designs are meant to be viewed on digital screens only such as computers, smartphones, tablets, TV’s, and cameras, you’ll create them using RGB. With RGB, you don’t really need to worry about the end results as all colours look the same on all screens.
An acronym for cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black), CMYK is the standard palette used in the four-colour printing process to create physical documents such as booklets, business cards, and pamphlets.
Printers recreate images by spraying a series of miniscule dots of liquid ink or powder toner on the paper, using a combination of CMYK colours. Beginning as blank white, each layer of ink lowers the brightness to achieve the desired colour. A mixture of cyan, magenta, and yellow results in processed black, or a very dark brown colour.
Choosing the right colour mode for your printing project is a big deal because it plays a large part in getting your branding right or giving a client exactly what they want.
Nowadays, many designs destined for print are created using computer software programmes. If you use RGB to design your project and reproduce it with a four-colour printer, the colours generally don’t match what you see onscreen.
Because RGB cannot accurately be replicated with CMYK, it’s recommended that you set up the artwork using the latter. This way, you’ll ensure you’re not losing colour and that the end result matches the design on the monitor. Using this format can save a lot of time and prevent you from having to make any changes after the file is sent or printed.
If you’ve already started your design in RGB, all you need to do is convert it to CMYK on most image editing or graphic arts programs. If you’re working in Photoshop, the most common and most widely used design application for both print and the web, you can simply go to Image > Mode > CMYK Colour. However, converting RGB to CMYK can still result in colour shifts, which might require a lot of editing to correct.
Whether you’re an independent designer, a creative agency or a print shop, you want your artwork to be of the highest quality. Colour accuracy matters so you need to really take the difference between RGB and CMYK into consideration. If you remember only one thing from this entire post, let it be this: create your digital-based projects in the RGB colour mode and your printed materials in CMYK for the best results.