3 min read

RGB vs CMYK for Color Printing- What’s the Difference?

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One common question I am asked by print clients or acquaintances is what is the difference between RGB and CMYK color modes, and does their choice matter when they design a color printing project like catalog printing or a brochure? The answer is not super simple and yes… it does matter. 

A basic breakdown is: A RGB color mode is used for designing digital communications or media like websites and social media to be viewed on devices like computer monitors, TVs, tablets, and mobile devices. A CMYK color mode is used for designing print communications like brochures, posters… putting ink on paper.  

RBG CMYK Color Mode

RGB Color Mode

Computer screens show color in images, text, and designs with different combinations of the colors: red, green, and blue light, hence RGB. RGB combines red, green, and blue lights to create a full spectrum of colors. 

Anything designed to be displayed on a screen is created in RGB. A more complex explanation is: RGB is an additive color model. That means it involves the addition of different colored lights to create new colors. In this model, the primary colors are red, green, and blue (RGB) which are the three colors of light that can be mixed together to create a wide range of colors. 

CMYK Color Mode

However, many designs are not created to be viewed on a screen. Designs that are intended for print should be designed in CMYK. The name CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and “key” - or black. The letter B was not able to be used since it was taken for the blue in RGB. CMYK is the standard color model for the printing industry because it provides reliable color with good color accuracy. 

While using CMYK, it is relatively easy to reproduce a wide range of colors using only a few inks - and on a printing press, the colors can be adjusted by changing the amount of ink used. The use of black ink (the “K” in CMYK) helps to contrast the overall quality of printed images as it can be used to create darker shades that would be hard to generate using only three primary colors. 

Tips for Choosing a Color Mode for Color Printing Projects 

So what do you do if your art was created in RGB but you want to print it on paper for a large mailing? Hatteras can help. Using software, we can convert your file from RGB to CMYK. However, it can result in a loss of the color gamut because CMYK has a somewhat limited range of colors. We can help adjust your color to make sure you are completely satisfied with your project. 

RBG CMYK Color Mode

I want to leave you with two important notes: 

  1. When converting designs from RGB to CMYK there may be some loss of color accuracy. It’s best to design files using the appropriate color mode based on the intended use. If you know your design is going to be on a website, then design your project in RGB. And if you know your artwork will be printed for a sign or on a printing press, it should be designed in CMYK. 
  2. RGB files are typically saved in formats such as: JPEG, GIF, PNG. CMYK files are saved as PDFs, TIFFs, and EPS.

Hatteras Offers Color Printing Solutions

You do not need to be an expert in RGB or CMYK color mixing modes or work in a print advertising agency to work with us at Hatteras Printing. We have lots of talented graphics experts who are more than happy to walk you through how to design and send your files. 

If you are not a designer we can help you create whatever you envision. Feel free to reach out to us or send me an email at: bzbozen@4hatteras.com We are a full-service commercial and digital color printing company in Plymouth Michigan but commonly work with businesses throughout the United States. 

Color Print Solutions