RGB vs CMYK – Cracking the Colour Code

Colour | Studio Seventeen

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Chloe Morris

Chloe Morris

Graphic Designer

Have you ever printed something from the web and the colours look completely different on paper? That’s because screens make up colours in a completely different way to printers.

Whereas screens use digital light sources made up of Red, Green and Blue lights, printing machinery uses layers of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (black) ink. Using the correct colour profile for your project will ensure that colours are translated accurately across physical and digital outputs.

Let’s explore how this works.

RGB is for screen

Red, Green and Blue (RGB) make up all of the colours you see on a digital screen. Digital devices create their colours by mixing red, green and blue lights at varying intensities. This is known as additive mixing. All colours begin as black and then red, green and blue light is added on top of each other to create all of the pigments you see on screens. When red, green and blue light is mixed together at equal intensity, they create pure white.

CMYK is for print

CMYK – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (black) – make up all of the colours you see on a printed document. CMYK is known as a four-colour print process and is the most common process used for standard print jobs. Because most printing processes use these four inks, it is physically impossible for the printing press to reproduce the colours as we see on a digital screen. A printing machine creates images by combining CMYK colours to varying degrees with physical ink. This is known as subtractive mixing. All colours start as blank white, and each layer of ink reduces the initial brightness to create a colour. When all colours are mixed together, they create pure black.

Does it really matter which format I use?

Yes! If you want to keep your branding consistent, your colour should be accurately reproduced across both digital and physical formats. This is achieved by adjusting the CMYK and RGB colour sliders and creating test prints to see which variations yield the most accurate results. If you use a logo that was designed for screen, using RGB colours, a printer will not be able to accurately reproduce these colours and will try and match them as closely as possible. Your vibrant pink may now look like a dull mauve!


Logo for screen, in RGB


Logo for print, in CMYK

That’s why we always ensure any design work is set up correctly for its intended use. We always implement the correct colour profiles for both screen and print, to ensure that colours are translated as seamlessly as possible across all outputs. Sometimes, this may involve additional printing processes for unique colour styles like fluorescents or gradients. Take a look at our post on print finishing to find out more.

Printing at Studio Seventeen

Do you want the perfect colour every time? View our Printing Services to find out how we can design and develop picture-perfect digital and printed material for your brand.

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