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RGB vs CMYK Color: When To Use RGB / CMYK?

Many a time have I seen graphic designers submitting their artwork for offset printing with images embedded in RGB format. This surprised me as I had assumed that every designer in the print production industry would be familiar with the use of RGB and CMYK color codings, when to use them, and what format of print they’re intended for. However, since there seem to be confusion regarding the use of RGB and CMYK color formats, here is a brief summary of these 2 types of color codes, and when to use them.

I will first define them

RGB stands for the colors of Red, Green, Blue. Add red, green, and blue light to create white light. Because you ADD the colors together to get White, we call these RGB colors the additive primaries. For images, we designate colors by the amount of red, green, or blue in the color. In your graphics software these numbers might look like this: 105 RED 200 GREEN 255 BLUE. A number between 1-255 designates the amount of each RGB color. RGB is the most common color mode used when creating graphics.

CMYK stands for the colors Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black. To reproduce full-color photographic images, typical printing presses use 4 colors of ink. The four inks are placed on the paper in layers of dots that combine to create the illusion of many more colors. CMYK refers to the 4 ink colors used by the printing press. Hence, all graphics to be commercially printed are converted from to CMYK mode, the colors used in printing inks. One of the most common mistakes made when submitting artwork for 4-color printing is not converting the images to the CMYK color space. This is needed so that the file can be separated into the four colors so that a separate printing plate can be made for each of the colors.

So, yes, you know the difference between the 2 color modes. So, when exactly do you use RBB and when to use CMYK?

Here is a brief list / guide to the use of the different color modes for the different production formats.

OFFSET Printing
Just remember that anything that’s to be sent for offset printing has to be in CMYK color mode, be it print postcards, brochures, leaflets, flyers, invitation cards and so on and so forth.
Let’s say, for example, you’re using the image above in a print brochure design. Converting the image from RGB to CMYK is just a click away.












LARGE FORMAT Printing
For some odd reason, some designers classify items for large formar printing such as billboards, buntings, and other outdoor media as “offset printing”. This misassociation of outdoor media to offset printing is very common, and before I go in-depth on inkjet printing in another post, let me first clarify that you need not convert your images to CMYK for inkjet printing. Leave them as RGB as large format printers are ink jets. They usually have seven or more inks which allow a very wide color gamut. If you narrow your document down to only CMYK, you will not be using those seven inks to your best advantage.

WEB
Yup, RGB it is! Simple enough to remember that anything for the WEB = RGB, because RGB IS the color you see on-screen.