CMYK vs RGB - CMYK and RGB refer to colour profiles used by designers

When it comes to the world of print, the different formats and specifications can become quite confusing. We often find that clients are unsure what terms like CMYK or 300dpi mean. Martin Hopkins created this three part guide to help people to understand these terms and what it means to them.

What are they?

CMYK and RGB refer to colour profiles used by designers. CMYK colours are subtractive meaning the starting canvas is white and colours are added to block out parts of the spectrum. RGB colours are are additive meaning that the starting point is a black canvas (i.e. a computer screen) and colours are added to create the final image. RGB has a much larger colour spectrum than CMYK, meaning that there are colours used in RGB that cannot be achieved using CMYK. Typically the issue with this is much more apparent when it comes to brighter colours (such as florescent green).

What is CMYK?

CYMK refers to the four colour process often used when printing designs physically. It stands for Cyan, Yellow, Magenta and Key (Black). For example, every colour you see on a magazine page, is made up of these four process colours. Every one of these colour is made up of values of each colour in the CMYK spectrum (each a value out of 100%). These are then printed one by one onto a stock (paper or board). The more of these colours you add together, the darker the printed colour will be. This is because of the fact that CMYK is subtractive. CMYK is very different to RGB, mostly because it uses four colours whereas RGB uses three (see above). Most domestic printers are capable of printing in the RGB format. However, when printing professionally on commercial printers, it is vital that the colours are formatted to CMYK for four colour press, otherwise the colours will appear very differently when printed. Converting files to CMYK before submitting them to print will avoid any nasty surprises with colour when the final product is produced.

What is RGB?

The term RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue. The RGB mode creates new colours by mixing different quantities of the primary colours (red, green and blue). This creates every colour you will see on your screens and gives you the flexibility to create any colour you like. RGB is most commonly associated with computer monitors and other displays such as LCD TVs. The simple way to think of RGB is for online use. As you can see above, if you use CMYK for online use the colours completely change and give you a result you really don’t want (yikes!). The same applies vice versa – you should never use RGB for four colour (CMYK) print purposes.

So, what on earth are Pantone colours?

Pantone is a standardized colour matching system. These colours are usually much more vibrant than the CMYK splits. Because of their additional vibrancy and quality, it is more expensive to print in this format. When using a Pantone colour in print, we often refer to it as a ‘spot colour’. Each colour has its own individual code which references a specific colour you can find in the colour books bought from Pantone. An example of a Pantone reference is: Pantone 355C. This colour matches one of the greens used in the Martin Hopkins logo. If you think you would like us to use a Pantone spot colour on your designs, just let us know and we can discuss what is on offer!

Look out for part 2!

We will be continuing this three part guide next week, look out for part 2 – 300dpi vs 72ppi. This part will discuss what DPI and PPI mean and how it is important to you.

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