RGB VS CMYK: WHEN TO USE WHICH AND WHY

This is a quick post about how best to educate our clients on the best quality in color and for their printing with us.

Our work is showcased not only in print for brochures, postcards, and letterheads, but we also create huge environments with large scale graphics and we do a ton of digital marketing and there is a difference in the quality of images we receive.

For Print

When we are working on a brochure or a smaller print piece, we encourage very high-quality images in CMYK at a minimum of 300 dpi at the final size. This will create the truest colors and best quality print.

For Large Scale Graphics

We work on very large graphics, and often it is a museum with historical images. You can’t always control the quality of those, but we will convert them from bitmap, grayscale or RGB to CMYK. If they are high res images though, we encourage you to give those to us in CMYK and at as high res as possible to retain quality and color.

For Digital and Web

Luckily, we are a little more forgiving here. You can provide us images in any color space and we can convert to RGB. However, high-quality images at least 150dpi or 300dpi will hold up well and idea for us to convert to pixels online.

To further summarize the above, when it comes to deciding to use RGB vs CMYK, first figure out what the output will be. If the output will be on a computer monitor then RGB is the way to go. If the piece will be printed, CMYK is usually the standard and the best option. That’s all there is to it when it comes to using RGB vs CMYK colors on your projects, please feel free to join the discussion below. We’d love to hear from you!

 

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49 Comments

  • emi says:

    Their is a discrepancy between CMYK and RGB explanation.

  • Dillon says:

    In the CMYK explanation above the CMYK color swatches, I think you have your blacks and whites mixed up.

    • starlo says:

      Hi Dillon, thanks for taking the time to comment. You are absolutely correct! That is a typo on our part, we have gone ahead and adjusted it to read correctly. Thanks again for pointing it out!

  • you explained it very simply. thanks for this article

  • I.V says:

    Most informative, much appreciated,
    I.V

  • David says:

    This is confusing, can a computer show what a printed image can or can’t it.

    QUOTE:
    On the other end, computer monitors give off colored light known as RGB (CMYK is colored ink.). This is because monitors are limited on the color spectrum range that they can produce due to the cathode ray tubes. Computer monitors have a larger color gamut than printing that can be achieved, which is why a computer can display a million more colors than what can be achieved with printing.

    • Hi David, thanks for commenting. We have adjusted the wording in the article so that it is a little more clear. To answer your question a computer cannot perfectly replicate what is printed, it can get close but it will not be an exact match. Hope this helps!

    • andy says:

      It is confusing, but a PC cannot show you EXACTLY what colour you will be printing, but the best way to see what it may look like is to convert rgb to cymk.

      rgb has millions more colours than cymk, so if you keep image as rgb, the colour shades may appear slightly different when printed. Converting to CYMK lowers the amount of colours available (as printing would) and therefore you see the picture roughly what it looks like as a print.

      But you have to remember- quality of the printer, quality of ink you use, quality and shade of paper you use, printer health, all play a part in the overall tones of colour print. a pc monitor will never account for these either.

      These are the main reasons why you can never see what you are printing EXACTLY on a monitor screen, but cymk mode will give you a good idea

  • Polly Riddell says:

    How do you actually know what color is going to print on your printed document. I have been very disappointed in the past with the printed color as compared to the color displayed on my computer screen. The document was set at CMYK. How do I assure a primary shade of yellow and not get a green shade of yellow?

  • Pingback: Color Modes |
  • Gary says:

    How do I take the RGB or CMYK numbers and get interior paint to match?

    • This is a bit tricky. You have a couple options, you can use the Pantone Color Matching System book with PMS, RGB and CMYK color values in it or get actual samples or a book from Benjamin Moore Color Library that are closest to what you are trying to match and compare visually. If you search online, you can find a color converter that will translate your CMYK or RGB to the closest Pantone color and then you can compare that to paint chips. However, I suggest finding the paint chips first and then trying to incorporate into your project. Good luck! Let us know what worked for you.

  • gavin merlino says:

    Hi – so when it comes to Printing shades of grey – say, for a business card. Its better to use CMYK; but can you elaborate on what cmyk values are best for ‘Cool’ shades of grey. Starting with print black? thanks so much

    • If we are shooting for a particular color, we use the Pantone Color Matching System. You can get the CMYK values of the colors that you want to achieve by purchasing their color books. If you go based off your monitor, there could be variances when you print. The Pantone library has a huge library of cool grays and various shades of black to choose from.

  • Anjali says:

    What if it will be both seen online and will be printed also? How do you know whats best to use when its both?

  • Kennedy says:

    I always design with RBG and the outcome makes me argue with my operator, i will change to CMYK and see the results. Thanks

  • Neal Hart says:

    Nice post! you put it so shortly but very helpful, thanks 🙂

  • happy girlfriend says:

    Thank you I am studying graphic design at my university and this was very clear and helpful 🙂
    As far as RGB, how do you know what a graphic will really look like on a website? Different computer monitors sometimes display colors differently.

  • Jordan Watson says:

    Super helpful & quick read! Thank you!

  • What is Image mode if we are relating to RGB and CMYK?

    • Image mode gives you a choice of using RGB or CMYK. If you are going to keep what you are doing on the web RGB would be great. If you intend on printing you should use CMYK. If you are doing both, create in CMYK and save once complete, then save as a second file in RGB. Hope this helps.

  • Peggy Trabalka says:

    I’m creating painting packets to sell on the web (pdf’s), and for print.
    What dpi should the art image be scanned?
    Will the dpi be the same for both pdf and print?

    Also, should I size the art in Photoshop to fit exactly for using in the page layout program?
    I use Photoshop and Quark.
    Thank you.

  • john will says:

    Hey! please tell which one is better for sublimation print RGB or CMYK ???

  • MEGHAN ALONSO says:

    Thanks for the information! I created some art prints for a teacher for their classroom. I did it in CYMK since she was printing. However, when she took the files to Walgreens for printing, they only accept RGB. Why the discrepancy?

    • One of the reasons for CMYK over RGB in that K is black and most digital printing processes have black toner and print nicer blacks. If you have a lot of black text or image in your picture, it prints with Black toner and doesn’t waste three other toners (more than three in some printers)
      For a computer monitor or TV set, black is the absence of any light. There are only Red, Green and Blue colors on a screen and they all have to be off to display black. Grays are similar. The balance of colors must be just perfect to reproduce gray without a tint of some color.

      I suspect, when you take your work to Walgreens, they are using a photographic printing process. The printers are not the best of quality and may not even be adjusted properly. Their software probably handles only RGB because the light source for color printing is R, G, and B or white light filtered by three filters.

    • In my previous reply I indicated that Walgreens might be using a photographic printing process. I believe I am wrong on that. I believe they are using digital printers, possibly HP printers but again, not certain.

      The better answer might be that most sources of images from devices in common use by the general public produce RGB image files and therefore there is little need to handle CMYK. The conversion process is just not part of Walgreens software. if it was, the customer may not be happy with the results. Most any professional printer will be able to handle CMYK files, specifically a company like the owner of this web site.

  • not_a_bot_78488525324 says:

    This saved my day, thank you so much! Love you!

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