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 massive difference between the colors you see on the screen and the ones you get on paper. You can have an unwanted result when you don’t know the difference between RGB and CMYK.

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, uses CMYK colors.

To understand how they work and why they are so different, you must 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 is used by printers, the main difference between RGB and CMYK is the way they work.

RGB Color Model

RGB is an additive model, and it uses the colors Red, Green, and Blue. Mixing these three colors creates the whole color spectrum. 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 many pixels. Each one of those pixels will be red, green, or blue. The light that passes through them will blend the RGB colors into a final color, which the human retina interprets.

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, other colors 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, and 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 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 paper.

These pigments are transferred to the paper in tiny dots using the primary colors Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black – 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 represent the color we want.

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

You will get the final black color when you mix the cyan, magenta, and yellow ink. 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 results from the combination between cyan and magenta. You get green when you combine cyan and yellow, and 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, and 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 in 0% won’t be enough. Remember, everything is about the mix of all the colors.

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

So, if your artwork 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, and they will form an RGB spectrum.

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

When 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 make these changes.

CMYK and RGB color modes are imperfect, and you can’t reproduce the whole color spectrum that you can see with your eyes. For example, the CMYK spectrum has a problem recognizing 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, knowing all the technical aspects of RGB and CMYK isn’t necessary. Understanding the main differences between them and how they work.

Let’s Sum Up: The Difference Between RGB And CMYK

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, and you can get almost any color in the world with them.

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

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