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RGB vs CMYK: Which is Better for Print?

June 20, 2019 9:43 am

Choosing the correct colour mode is very important when it comes to design. This article explains the differences between RGB and CMYK and when to use each mode.

Designing for print can be quite unforgiving if you aren’t ‘thinking print’. Thinking print is all about preparing your design with the final printed product in mind and basing your decisions on that. It sounds obvious, but this kind of preparation helps to ensure that your prints turn out the way you and your clients want them to.

The colour mode you choose can make a difference in how the artwork displays in different mediums, so what you see on the screen could potentially be very different from the final printed edition. As award-winning printers, we want to make sure our customers get the best printing experience and results. This article will help you to understand the differences between the two colour modes and when to use them so that your prints turn out exactly as you envision.

What are CMYK and RGB colour modes and why do they matter?

Firstly, you need to understand the difference between RGB and CMYK colour modes.

RGB Colour Mode:

RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue and is an additive colour mode. Red, green and blue are the base colours. To create other colours you’ll use varying quantities of red, green and blue. With each colour placed at zero, you’ll start with a black canvas, and when ‘adding’ one of these colours to your design you’ll create your desired colour. To create a true-yellow, for example, you would need red and green to be completely saturated and blue to be at zero. To create a softer yellow, you would increase the value of blue. This technique can be described as layering — in a very basic sense — and it gives you plenty of colour options, which are particularly vivid and appealing when viewed digitally.

In fact, RGB is the digital standard. Because you’re using primary colours as a base you’re able to create more colours with greater accuracy. Most photo-editing software will use RGB colour modes as a default for this reason.

CMYK Colour Mode:

CMYK, which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (Black), is a ‘subtractive’ colour mode. Unlike RGB, CMYK subtracts colour value to create the colours you see. This process mimics the action of mixing colours when painting or dyeing. With every drop of ‘paint’, you begin to subtract from the original white canvas. As you vary the degree of colour, you’ll accomplish the desired colour, hue and tone you’re after.

Does it matter whether I use CMYK or RGB when designing for print?

It certainly does matter which colour mode you use when designing and proofing your work. CMYK is the colour mode used by most industry-recognised professional printers, like ourselves, to create documents.

If you’ve created a design in RGB, many of the rich colours (the blues and greens) won’t display as brightly when they’re printed using the CMYK process – even after they’ve been converted. What this means is that you’ll be left with a printed product that doesn’t resemble your original design.

This can be avoided if you either design your original document using CMYK colour modes or convert it from RGB to CMYK before sending it to be printed. This way you’ll have the opportunity to colour correct any colours that aren’t displaying as they should. Doing this will give you an accurate depiction of what your document will look like when it is printed and give you greater control of the process.

Preparing your design for print is easier than having to reprint because of work that wasn’t prepared for design. In the end, you’ll find that designing in this manner will save you stress, time and money.

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