RGB vs. CMYK

As a designer, it is important to know how your designs are going to be used and where they are going to be viewed. This will affect the end production of how the colors display. Color space is an additive process. You are adding to a blank canvas. This blank canvas starts with the absence of color and is the first step in identifying what color space you should be using.

When the computer screen is your canvas, the absence of color is black. Combine red, green and blue light (RGB), and you form white light. Combining the RGB colors in various percentages create the color palette.

In print design, the absence of color is white. The printer lays down a percentage of cyan ink, then a percentage of magenta on top, followed by a layer of yellow and a layer of black (CMYK) to form a color.

 

An image that is in RGB mode is optimized for display on a computer monitor. You will get a brighter resulting image in RGB because the combination of colors is combining in a direction towards white. In order to reproduce that very same image using ink on paper, it must be converted to the CMYK color mode, which combines inks towards black. As you add multiple layers of ink to one another, deep, rich colors are easily achievable, but the lighter, brighter colors become increasingly difficult to achieve. RGB files will look good on screen, and they might even look good when printed on a desktop color printer, however, due to variations in printers and inks, many printing jobs will not look the way you expect it to look.

In order to print properly on a professional printing press, files must be supplied in CMYK mode. RGB images need to be converted to CMYK. Much of the time, the color change that occurs is slight. Every once in a while, though, there is artwork whose effectiveness is severely compromised when the color range is compressed during the transition.

This compromise is most often seen with the color black. When properly set up in a CMYK color space, black will lay down as a 100 percent saturation of black ink, with no addition of cyan, magenta or yellow inks. RGB conversion will separate black into a percentage of the four colors: 25 percent cyan, 25 percent magenta, 25 percent yellow and 25 percent black. This means that at any point in the printing process, if one of the CMYK inks is slightly out of alignment, the end result will be a blurry print job. This is especially harmful if the text in your design is black.

An experienced designer will know what color space to work in when confronted with a new project. When designing your ads, our team of designers always keeps both CMYK and RGB in mind, depending on the customer's needs and expectations. Printing requires CMYK for best quality, and so much of our advertising is CMYK, however we do have some clients who have need of online RGB formatted images, as well. Whatever your needs, our team is always here to help. If you have any questions about CMYK vs. RGB, contact me anytime - I'm happy to help!