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Although it can be low on the priority list for some, understanding the difference between CMYK, RGB and Pantone colours is important.

As a design agency, we regularly hear things like, “make it green and the background brown”, which is all well and good. But if you have something specific in mind, you mustn’t overlook the considerations for colour selection.

‘Red’ isn’t simply ‘red’ and ‘blue’ isn’t just ‘blue’. There are countless variations of each colour and some work for screens whilst others work for printing with ink.

Let’s take a look at what CMYK, RGB and Pantone all mean so that when you’re next working with your designer, you’re all on the same page.


The easiest way to explain this is by pointing out how the colour modes work. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (Black). Think about the ink cartridges you put in a printer, this is them!

CMYK is a subtractive colour model; simply put, the colours overlap to create other colours. For example, overlapping yellow and magenta makes red and overlapping yellow and cyan makes green.

This gets complicated when you address the levels or percentages of each of the four colours. Slight variations in percentage create different colours and an endless rainbow of possibility.

Say you are printing a solid page of colour, a value is assigned to each CMYK, for example, 30% Cyan 1% Magenta 29% Yellow and 40% Key. The printer will then process this information and print precisely those percentages overlaid on top of each other to create the colour.

The issue with CMYK arises when we look at consistency; different printers can produce slightly varying shades of colours, colour consistency is never perfect.

However, there are obvious benefits to using the CMYK mode when printing. Only needing four ink colours to create the full rainbow means that both time and money are saved, and both are invaluable to your business.


RGB or Red, Green & Blue is the exact opposite of CMYK in that it’s an additive colour model. It still overlaps colours to create more colours but it uses the light wavelengths of colours to create new colours. It’s a bit more confusing but you don’t need to know all the nitty-gritty details.

RGB is used on screens, TV’s, cameras, phones and websites. Vivid designs can be created in RGB, it’s also device-dependent, it can vary based on what device you see the colours on.

To put it as simply as possible, you use RGB for screens and CMYK for print. If you try and use one for the other you will have the wrong colours being produced. Your perfect brand green could show up dull and turquoise on your Facebook page if you’ve uploaded the CMYK image.

Pantone 🔍

You’ve probably heard of Pantone, or as it is also known, Pantone Matching System (PMS). Pantone is a company that has created the most universally used colour matching system. Using Pantone allows designers to create spot colours or solid colours that will always match if the printer is using Pantone.

By using the PMS, designers can guarantee consistency across projects and recreate exactly what their client is looking for. Pantone has created numerous swatch books full of varied colours, meaning that you’ll never be caught off-guard by a pink-ish looking red again. We would advise having both the digital and physical swatches to ensure that your computer screen isn’t misleading you with its RGB colours.

Pantone swatch books also come in both coated and uncoated finishes, meaning that the paper you are printing on will not change the desired look of what you’re producing.

Which one?

CMYK – For most printing projects; it is a cost-effective way of printing and will keep it cheap and replicable.

RGB – All digital formats; you can create bright and rich colours.

Pantone – For screen-printed projects especially in the textiles and fashion sector.

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As a creative design agency, we champion doing things the right way and making your business stand-out. At Create8, our team of skilled designers have the know-how when it comes to designing for print or digital. If you have any questions about the information in this blog, or if you are interested in starting a project with us, get in touch!

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