Design Differences: CMYK vs. RGB

Design Agency Helps to Understand The Color Spectrums of CMYK and RGB

A general rule of thumb for all designers is to use the RGB color spectrum for digital use and work in CMYK for all print purposes. Although this difference may seem simple, it is very important that designers do not mix up these spectrums. Using the wrong color mode could produce sub-par outcomes.

Additive Color System

RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue — the same color mode used in the design of television and mobile device screens. Since RGB is an additive color system, these primary colors are added together in various combinations to produce any color imaginable. By superimposing all three colors of light over each other at full intensity, the color white is achieved. When red, green and blue are superimposed without any intensity, the color black is displayed.

RGB has been deemed the standard color mode across all digital platforms because it has the capacity to produce the widest selection of colors.

Subtractive Color System

The CMYK color system, on the other hand, works in a completely different way than RGBs additive color system. In fact, CMYK is the exact opposite; it is a subtractive color system.

The acronym stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key. “Key,” in this case, refers to the color black. Long ago, when using an old-style printing presses, each color would need to be carefully aligned to the black “key” plate. Today, printer ink is typically aligned in this color order as well.

Since CMYK is a subtractive color system, layering more colors on top of each other produces the color black. Overlaying any of the colors without the ‘key’ color will give you varying shades of bright or deep tones.

Why can’t RGB be used for printing?

The answer is complex, but important to understand. Layering RGB ink on top of each other would produce darker colors because inks can only absorb light, not emit them as it would on a screen. Because of this, printing in RGB makes it difficult to produce light and vibrant colors. The CMY colors are able to cover these lighter ranges more easily. Adding the ‘key’ to the spectrum will give printers the ability to produce a true, dark black.

When designing on digital programs, more often than not, you will be working in the RGB color range. Before printing any material, however, it is important to remember to convert this range to CMYK. Although many modern-day printers will do this for you, the colors may appear dull or darker than they rendered on screen.

Understanding these color design differences will greatly enhance your digital practices. For more top-notch production techniques, contact the design professionals at Kraus Marketing. Our team is ready to help your company develop its visual presence with colors that pop!