The Colour Conundrum – CMYK v RGB

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The Colour Conundrum – CMYK v RGB

Unless you’re used to producing web or print graphics, you may not know

the difference between CMYK and RGB colour formats

and how they effect print results.

We’re going to explain the differences here to help anyone who needs to know and may be creating artwork for print.

Whereas monitors emit light, inked paper absorbs or reflects specific wavelengths. Cyan, magenta and yellow pigments serve as filters, subtracting varying degrees of red, green and blue from white light to produce a selective gamut of spectral colors. Like monitors, printing inks also produce a color gamut that is only a subset of the visible spectrum, although the range is not the same for both. Consequently, the same art displayed on a computer monitor may not match to that printed in a publication. Also, because printing processes such as offset lithography use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) inks, digital art must be converted to CMYK color for print. Some printers prefer digital art files to be supplied in the RGB color space with ICC profiles attached. Images can then be converted to the CMYK color space by the printer using color management methods that honor profiles if present; this helps preserve the best possible detail and vibrancy.


RGB represents screen colour settings. CMYK is accurate for standard print processes.

Therefore, create your web graphics and Powerpoint slideshows in RGB as they are for screen view.  Anything for print, use CMYK setting – unless you require specific Spot Colours – then choose a Pantone colour.

(’s Design Department are more than happy to help you with clarifying any of this).


Indeed, here’s where it gets complicated.

So, you’ve paid attention and produced your artwork in CMYK or converted it via Photoshop or Illustrator to CMYK. Brilliant!

You’re looking at that artwork on screen which is, ultimately, displaying to you using RGB profiles. Erm…

What does that mean exactly?

It means that even though you’ve done everything correctly in producing your CMYK artwork for print, what you are seeing on screen may not necessarily represent the final print output 100%. It may also not be that far off either. But the only way to be absolutely sure is to see a printed proof.

This is fine and simple if you’re getting your job digitally printed. But if it’s getting litho printed, lithographic plates will need to be made in advance of producing the plate and this will usually incur a charge.

WHAT THE HECK IS PANTONE COLOUR? will follow the Pantone Colour Matching System when producing lithographic print products. This method is used to guarantee a 100% accurate representation of a specific colour or colours as defined by the standard Pantone Colour Chart.

You can view a Pantone Colour Chart at any time at our offices – for verifying or choosing a particular colour.

“The Pantone Color Matching System is largely a standardized color reproduction system. By standardizing the colors, different manufacturers in different locations can all refer to the Pantone system to make sure colors match without direct contact with one another.

One such use is standardizing colors in  the CMYK process. The CMYK process is a method of printing color by using four inks—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. A majority of the world’s printed material is produced using the CMYK process, and there is a special subset of Pantone colors that can be reproduced using CMYK. Those that are possible to simulate through the CMYK process are labeled as such within the company’s guides.

However, most of the Pantone system’s 1,114 spot colors cannot be simulated with CMYK but with 13 base pigments (14 including black) mixed in specified amounts.


The Pantone system also allows for many special colors to be produced, such as metallics and fluorescents. While most of the Pantone system colors are beyond the printed CMYK gamut, it was only in 2001 that Pantone began providing translations of their existing system with screen-based colors. Screen-based colors use the RGB color model—red, green, blue—system to create various colors.[8] The Goe system has RGB and LAB values with each color.[9]

Pantone colors are described by their allocated number (typically referred to as, for example, “PMS 130”). PMS colors are almost always used in branding.”

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