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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, like social media and websites and CMYK is used for print, like brochures, flyers, presentation folders, etc.

RGB stands for the colours red, green, and blue, 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 a screen. Basically, on a television set or computer monitor there are tiny pixels, light is projected through them, blending the colours on the eye’s retina to create the desired colours.

CMYK 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, are printed onto paper in tiny little cyan, magenta, yellow, and black dots.

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The difference between CMYK and RGB

When should CMYK be used?

As hinted in the previous section, CMYK (also known as 4-colour printing) is the recommended colour system for any material that will be printed. This includes business cards, brochures, letterheads, and any other business collateral. Printing an RGB file can result in drastic colour changes from screen to paper.

When should RGB be used?

RGB should be used when designing anything to be put onto a screen, for example Websites, Social Media Graphics, Online Posters, Interactive Brochures. Uploading a CMYK file to social media results in colour changes you don’t want; your brand colour might show up fluorescent.

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 that can turn out quite pale when you convert them to CMYK. Your screen is much brighter than ink on the page unless you’re utilising neon inks.

If you are struggling to design for print, we advise speaking to the printing supplier before starting your design, as colours can also depend on the finishes you are having on the print such as matt lamination, gloss lamination, spot UV and so on. If you are struggling, feel free to contact us.

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