Whether you are a professional graphic designer or you are contacting a company about getting a design, it is important for you to know the difference between the RGB and CMYK color modes. If you know CMYK vs. RGB when it comes to color modes, you can plan ahead in order to optimize each stage of the design process.

Both CMYK for printing or RGB start with three primary colors that are combined to create all the other desired colors. For RGB, the three primary colors are red, green, and blue. For CMYK, the three primary colors are cyan, magenta, and yellow. RGB is an additive process that uses colored light. On the other hand, CMYK is a subtractive process that uses the pigment of inks, dyes, or paint. 

In general, the main difference between these color modes is that RGB is best used for display on electronic screens while CMYK is ideal when the objective is to create printed materials.

Take a look below as we take an in-depth look at additional differences between the CMYK and RGB models, when it is appropriate to use each one and why there might be times when you need to know when and how to convert RGB to CMYK. 

What is RGB and When Should I Use It?

Since RGB is an additive color model, this means RGB uses white as a combination of all primary colors and black as the absence of light. When it comes to the design process, both print providers and graphic designers use RGB as the color model for any type of media that normally transmits light (such as computer screens). 

This means RGB is an ideal choice for digital media designs because they emit color as either red, green, or blue light. It is important to note that RGB has a wider range of colors than CMYK and this means there are less limits with colors when you are working in RGB mode.

You should turn to RGB if your design project involves:

  • Web & App Design
  • Website Buttons
  • Branding 
  • Video 
  • Digital Graphics
  • Online Logos or Ads
  • Icons
  • Social Media
  • Profile Pictures or Backgrounds
  • Images for Posts
  • Photographs for Website, Social Media, or Apps

What is CMYK and When Should I Use It?

Because CMYK is considered to be subtractive, it uses white as the natural print background color and black as a combination of colored inks. CMYK is best used when creating print materials because print mediums use colored inks for messaging. 

CMYK works to subtract colors from natural white light and then it turns them into dyes or pigments. When this happens, printers put these pigments onto paper in tiny dots that are cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. These dots are either spread out or close together so they can accurately create the desired colors. In general, the more colored ink that is placed on a page with CMYK, the closer the color will get to black. The subtraction of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks will result in a white color (AKA the original color of the paper or background). While RGB color values range from 0 to 255, CMYK color values will range from 0-100%.

It is best to use CMYK for any physically printed project design that will not be viewed on a screen. If the design needs to be recreated with ink or paint, the CMYK color mode provides more accurate results.

Use CMYK if your project involves:

  • Branding Materials
  • Any Print Advertising
  • Signs and Storefronts
  • Business Cards
  • Stationary
  • Billboards
  • Stickers
  • Posters
  • Vehicle Wraps
  • Flyers
  • Brochures
  • Printed Merchandise (T-Shirts and Hats) or Promotional Swag (Pens, Mugs, Etc.)
  • Product Packaging
  • Restaurant Menus

Make sure you are working in CMYK mode when it is appropriate or your colors will be somewhat limited. If you need help with your next print project, visit driftwoodprinting.com.

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