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What's The Difference Between CMYK and RGB
23 February 2017
What's The Difference Between CMYK and RGB

Are CMYK & RBG Different?

The CMYK and RGB color spaces are a common cause for confusion, especially when people are buying from the print industry. Customers may stare at the dull pastel blue on their printed business cards, compared to the vibrant electro-dazzle blue on the computer screen. And up pops the question of "why?".

How Many Colors In RGB & CMYK?

What are CMYK and RGB?

CMYK and RGB are two different color spaces, used to create all the colors we see.

CMYK, standing for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key (a printers' term for black), is the color space used in print. These four colors are used in different quantities to make different colors and shades on your flyers.

RGB, (Red, Green, Blue) is used by computer monitors to display colors. (RGB being colored light, rather than ink.)

One main difference between the CMYK and RGB color spaces is that when you use 100% of CMYK you get black, while 100% RGB gives you white. This is because of how each color space actually works with light.

What Is Color Gamut

A color gamut is a fancy way of explaining the range of different colors that are visible/possible to create with a specific technology.

RGB has a very high color gamut. So you can achieve very dark colors all the way up to vibrant, almost luminous colors. This is because RGB uses light itself to show those colors and takes advantage of having a backlit panel.

When looking at the CMYK color gamut compared to RGB, over a million of these colors cannot be achieved through printing, because printing and the CMYK color space naturally have a smaller gamut due to not having backlighting and the only brightness coming from the white of the paper. You might think to just add more color, but as we've mentioned, the more ink you put down, the darker things get as the white of the paper shines through less and less.

What Color To Choose?

CMYK Vs RGB Printing

Whenever you are designing something to be displayed on a monitor, usually called "for web", then you should start designing in RGB. This will display the correct colors and how they will be viewed to everyone, and it will give you access to the larger color gamut available when using RGB.

On the other hand, if you are designing something to be used in the glorious world of print, then you would want to be designing in CMYK.

Is Litho Printing CMYK?

Yes, no matter if you print digitally on your desktop or with a huge litho machine, they always use CMYK. When printing using a lithographic process, 4 plates are used to achieve different colors. The Key plate (black), gets this name because it's the plate that usually contains all the key information. (For example, the text.) For more information on the different printing processes used in the industry, please refer to our page explaining the advantages and disadvantages of digital and litho printing.

Convert RGB To CMYK

If you're looking to convert RGB to CMYK without losing color, unfortunately, as we've explained above, this won't be possible unless the RBG colors in the image are all within the CMYK color gamut.

While the colors may be muted, it is still possible to convert RGB to CMYK, simply go into the document setup in the graphic software you're using and set the color space to CMYK rather than RGB.

When using CMYK, the colors you see on the screen should be close to what will be printed. This can still vary from monitor to monitor, however, due to their color calibration. Your monitor could be far too bright, giving the illusion that your CMYK prints look vastly more vibrant on screen than in person. If you're ever unsure of how your project will print, we recommend a test print on a desktop printer first, and if you're still not sure, order a test print to put your mind at ease.

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