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Mindzai Creative


Graphic Design 101: RGB vs CMYK

Posted by May Sun on

What is Color?
Color is a result of light that is made up of different wavelengths. We are able to see colors when these wavelengths are reflected off an object. For example, a banana is yellow because it only reflects yellow light. All other wavelengths are absorbed by its surface. The science of color can get pretty deep, but let’s just talk about color in relation to design and print. When designing, it is important to know the difference between the RGB and CMYK scale. You can easily set up or convert your files in photoshop or illustrator with this step below. This will ensure that you get the colors you want when going to print.

What is RGB?

RGB stands for red, green, and blue. It is the main format for anything displayed on a monitor. Most images you see on a computer, video monitor, or projector show up in RGB. A full color image on a monitor is made up of pixels. These pixels are then broken down into sub pixels that are either red, green, or blue. These three colors come together to create white. RGB is considered an “additive” color model which means that red, green, and blue light must be added to get a desired color. The more light you add- the lighter things get. You can get the full spectrum of colors in RGB with over 16 million shades of white. With so many possible shades, It is important to note that most printers only print in CMYK. This means that certain color tones on your design may be compromised if you started your design in RGB mode.

When to Use RGB?

Artwork and designs made in RGB can be used when printing Giclees. Giclee is a type of fine art printing which uses a larger range of pigmented inks. Color matching services are included and will be matched to either the original piece or to the monitor. 

What is CMYK?

Most digital printers print in CMYK. CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. You may even notice this as standard colored inks in your home printer. This is a “subtractive” color model in which white is made by subtracting colors. In other words, you subtract light from a white colored paper by adding more ink. The more ink you layer on top of each other, the blacker the image gets. Color pixels in CMYK are made by layering colors ranging from cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Since this color palette is more limited than RGB, some tones (like neon colors) may not translate into print. When designing with a digital print in mind, it is important to start your template in CMYK. This will help you better predict how your colors will show up in print form.

When to use CMYK?

All digital prints should be converted to CMYK. This includes all digital art prints and marketing materials. Sending a RGB to a printer may have unpredictable results as the color conversion may differ greatly from your computer screen. Keep in mind, you’re still viewing CMYK colors on a RGB screen, so your end product may still vary a little. However, designing in CMYK will allow you to get a better idea of how the colors will turn out and allow you to adjust to get your best result!


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  • cmyk
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  • giclee
  • digital printing

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