Tips: The difference between CMYK and RGB

Tips: The difference between CMYK and RGB 780 552 Create 8

If you are designing anything in colour, you should be familiar with the two most common colour models: RGB and CMYK. For most day-to-day design intents and purposes, what you really need to know is that RGB colour is used for digital communications, like television or websites and CMYK is used for stuff made for print, like brochures, flyers, presentation folders, etc.

RGB stands for the colours red, green, and blue, the colours widely recognised in design fields as the primary colours. The RGB model is known as an additive model, where colours are added together to make up what we see on the screen. Basically, pixels on a television set or computer monitor create tiny pixels that, if viewed under a magnifying glass, are one of those three colours. Light is projected through them, blending the colours on the eye’s retina to create the desired colours.

CMYK, on the other hand, stands for the colours cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. CMYK is a subtractive model. This gets a bit complicated, but the idea with subtractive models like CMYK is that colours from the spectrum are subtracted from natural white light into pigments or dyes. These pigments, then, are printed onto paper in tiny little cyan, magenta, yellow, and black dots. If you are struggling to design for print then we advise speaking to the printing supplier before starting your design, as colours can also depend on the types of finishes you are having on the print such as Matt Lamination, Gloss Lamination, Spot UV and so on.


Printing Manchester


The difference between CMYK and RGB


When should CMYK be used?

As hinted in the previous section, CMYK is the recommended colour system for any material that will be printed. This includes business cards, brochures, letterheads, and any other business collateral.

Since this colour model is the only one that can produce the greatest accuracy when printing colour photography, it should be your primary choice for any print job that uses more than four colours.


When should RGB be used?

RGB should be used when designing anything which is going to be put onto a screen, for example Websites, Social Media Graphics, Online Posters, Interactive Brochures.

What happens if you need to design for both print and web for the same project?

In that case, it’s recommended to start with the CMYK model and design all the print assets first. Then, switch to RGB and design the assets for the web. Doing so will give you a closer match in colours as RGB has a wider range of colours which may turn out quite pale when you convert them to CMYK.


Our graphic designers in Manchester are experts in print and web, therefore if you are struggling to design feel free to contact us.