RGB vs CMYK: Using the Best Color Model for Your Design

Have you ever been confused about why the colors on your print order didn’t turn out exactly as you intended?

Perhaps when you designed a postcard for your mailout, the red you chose looked brilliant on your computer screen, but when you received the printed postcard, the red looked muted.

To explain what happened and how to fix this issue, let’s dive into some color theory. (It won’t hurt, I promise.)

Discover the Different Color Models

The whole issue boils down to how colors are produced on digital screens versus on a physical printed item. Different color models are used in the digital world versus in print processing. The color model for digital screens is called RGB, and the color model for printing is called CMYK. Learning the differences between these models will help you make sure your printed materials turn out stunning every time.

RGB is a color model used for digital screens that consists of Red, Green, and Blue light that is added together to form different colors. The lights are displayed using digital programming on TV and computer screens to produce the images you see. You should use RGB to design anything that will live on the web, such as a logo, webpage, or content for social media.

CMYK is a color model used for printing that consists of the colors Cyan Magenta, Yellow, and Key (Black), and it is also used to describe the CMYK printing process. CMYK printing involves combining the four inks or dyes, in tiny, overlapping dots to create the colored image or design you see on a printed product. You should use CMYK to design anything that will be printed, such as business cards, billboards, posters, or images on a T-shirt.

Make the Color Models Work for You

As you can see, the two color models are very different and are built on different premises. RGB is “additive,” meaning the lights are added together to form different colors. CMYK is “subtractive,” meaning the inks are combined to “subtract” the visible light reflecting off the paper, allowing your eye to see a wider variety of colors. Because of these differences, the CMYK and RGB color models don’t easily convert, especially when you are trying to create high-quality printed materials.

If you try to print a design on a postcard that is saved in an RGB format, the colors on the physical printed item will most likely look different from the way they are displayed on the screen. To avoid this issue and make sure your order looks the way you intend, make sure it is saved as a CMYK file before you submit it to be printed. If the design is saved as a CMYK file, the printer can “read” the file and produce the beautiful, bright colors in the design as you expected.

So, how do you make sure your files are in CMYK mode?

If you are working in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign, tutorials are available all over the web to show you how to easily set your file in CMYK mode. If you realize you’ve been designing in RGB mode, there are also many resources available to show you how to change your file to CMYK with a quick Google search. Here is one great resource. What if you are trying to convert a PDF to CMYK? Here is a resource for PDF conversion. If you have further questions or need assistance, our team of experts here at Xpressdocs is just a phone call away. With over 20 years of experience in the print industry, you can trust us to help you create the perfect materials for your marketing campaign.

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