difference between cmyk and rgb: feature image

The Difference Between RGB And CMYK Color Spaces

When you’re going to print something you need to know, that there is a huge difference between the colors you see on the screen and the ones you get on paper. When you don’t know the difference between RGB and CMYK, you can have an unwanted result.

All designers that have printed at least one thing in their lives, have had to deal with color problems, especially amateur designers.

Understanding the difference between those types of colors spaces isn’t easy. Here, I’m going to explain it in the simplest way possible.

First of all, you need to know that RGB is the color range used by gadgets with a screen, such as computers, scanners, telephones, and cameras.

While CMYK is the color range used by printers. Basically, any printed thing, like books, newspapers or magazines, use CMYK colors.

To understand how they work and why they are so different from each other, you need to know that the screen emits light, while the paper absorbs it. This allows creating some colors in RGB that aren’t available in CMYK, and vice versa.

This makes you able to see almost any color on the screen, while the printer is more restricted.

Besides the fact that one is used by screens and the other one is used by printers, the main difference between RGB and CMYK is the way they work.

RGB Color Model

RGB is an additive model. It uses the colors Red, Green, and Blue and if you want to create the whole color spectrum you mix those three colors. In RGB, all the colors are used together to get what we see on a screen.

If you observe any screen with a magnifying glass, you will see lots of pixels. Each one of those pixels will be red, green or blue.The light that passes through them will blend the RGB colors together in to a final color, which are interpreted by the human retina.

rgb color model

When you work with RGB you start with black, this happens when there isn’t any color on the screen. The more colors you add, the brighter the screen will be.

In RGB you work with 7 different colors. There are the primary colors which are red, green, and blue. Also, there are other colors that are created when you mix them.

If you mix green and red you’ll get yellow. When you combine green and blue the final color is cyan. The combination of blue and red will give you magenta.

Finally, when you put the three colors (red, green, and blue), together the result is white.

As you can see, when you mix the RGB colors, the resulting color is brighter than the previous one. You can control the intensity of the colors just by programming them with a number. For example, you’ll get the color white only if all the primary ones are in the maximum frequency, which is 255.

CMYK Color Model

CMYK is practically the opposite of RGB. First of all, this is a subtractive model. This could be complicated to explain, but basically, all the colors from CMYK are obtained by adding dyes or pigments to the white of the paper.

All these pigments are transferred to the paper in little dots using the basic colors Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black, which is considered to be the key color. That’s why it’s represented by the K in the CMYK initials.

If you see any printed thing like a magazine with a magnifying glass, you will see a lot of dots in those primary colors. Some of them are so close to each other that they will represent the color we want.

One important difference between RGB y CMYK is that in CMYK, when you add more colors, the result will be darker.

When you mix the cyan, magenta, and yellow ink you will get final black color. In CMYK you can work with 7 different colors too.

cmyk color model

I’ve already mentioned 4 of those 7 colors. Another color is blue; this one is the result of the combination between cyan and magenta. You get green when you combine cyan and yellow. Finally, if you mix magenta and yellow you’ll get red.

Just like in RGB, you can control the intensity of these colors by programming them. In this case, you will need to program your printer and not your screen. The programming isn’t just to put a number, like in RGB. You need to use percentages.

Basically, you will tell the printer how much ink it will use. For example, to get a saturated and vibrating black color, putting the black cartridge in 100% and the other ones in 0% won’t be enough. Remember, everything is about the mix of all the colors.

To get that black, you will need to put all the 4 colors in 100%. You may be thinking: “if I can create black from the other colors, why do I need the black cartridge?” Well, if you mix only cyan, magenta and yellow you will get brownish color and not totally black one.

So, if your art work has some shadows or black tones, the separate black cartridge will make them richer.

Explore In More Detail: Difference Between RGB And CMYK

As you can see, RGB and CMYK are almost the exact opposite. Even the overlaps of RGB colors will give you the basic colors of CMYK. The same thing happens with the combination of CMYK colors, they will give you the RGB spectrum.

Any designer or photographer should know that the printing process isn’t just than the final step, it’s an essential step. Therefore it must be done carefully to avoid any mistakes or surprises. Different color variation in the final product is the nightmare for any designer.

When you’re creating a print design, you need to keep in mind the difference between RGB and CMYK. Remember, the RGB colors are brighter and more saturated than the ones you will get in the print.

difference between cmyk and rgb: checking final colors

It is almost always recommended to create your design from the beginning in CMYK mode if you’re going to print it. The only exception to the rule appears when you use professional printers. Some of them use other inks, like light cyan or gray.

With those printers, you can get colors that aren’t available in the CMYK spectrum. So, it is recommended to conserve RGB format when you’re going to use them.

An option to check your colors before printing is changing the visualization. Some programs used by designers, like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign allow you to do these changes.

CMKY and RGB color modes are not perfect and you can’t reproduce the whole color spectrum that you can see with your eyes. For example, the CMYK spectrum has problem to recognize the blue color and some dark tones of red.

Even though they aren’t perfect, they look pretty realistic to the human eye. If you want to be a great graphic designer, it isn’t necessary to know all the technical aspects about RGB and CMYK. Knowing the main differences between them and how they work.

Let’s sum up:

RGB colors are used on the screen. If you’re creating something just to show it on a gadget, these colors are perfect for you. They are more variated.  You can get almost any color in the world with them.

CMYK spectrum is used for printed thingd. They are more opaque than RGB colors. Working with them on the computer will avoid any variation when you print. Just remembering these simple differences between RGB and CMYK, you will improve your work as a designer and you will make your clients happier.

You Might Also Like...