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  • Writer's pictureAmy Kouwenhoven

CMYK vs RGB colour values explained

What is the difference between colour values when it comes to printing, you ask? Both RGB and CMYK are colour schemes used for mixing colour in graphic design. CMYK and RGB colours are rendered differently depending on which medium they are used for. Let's clear the confusion...


Something very important to note is, because the RGB scheme has a greater range of colours, CMYK cannot produce brighter colours. These hues are beyond the CMYK range and will come out darker and more dull when printed than what you see on your display. Time to get technical below.



RGB Explained:

RGB stands for the three primary colours Red Green Blue. It is the colour scheme for digital images. RGB colour mode is used if the project is to be displayed on any screen. Think of your smart phone, TV, iPad, camera for example! Even the screen you are reading this blog on is made up of millions of little dots called pixels. The colour of these pixel manipulates how the light on the screen is conveyed in order to create the colour of the words and images that you are seeing right now. And each pixel in itself is divided into 3 subpixels; one red, one green, and one blue.


RGB colour Scheme offers the widest range of colours and hence preferred in many computer softwares.

  • Digital screens like computers, mobile, TV etc.

  • Web and application design.

  • Online branding (e.g. websites, business profiles).

  • Social media profiles.

As a result, the best file formats for RGB are JPEGs, PNGs, GIFs, if your design is meant for digital use.



CMYK Explained:


This colour scheme is a subtractive type mode that combines the colours CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) in various amounts which creates a variety of different colours. A printing machine creates images by combining these colours with physical ink.


The way a printer works is by starting with white paper, and then applying single consecutive layers each colour one by one until the desired colour is achieved. Each colour is applied with a different printing plate, meaning that CMYK printers have four different plates, each with its own pigment.


These pigments are printed onto paper in tiny dots. So if you were to take a magnifying glass to these images you would see the main image is just a bunch of tiny dots spread out. Looking at the image as a whole, makes it appear to be the colours we intended them to be.


  • Used when physically branding is required (think business cards)

  • Marketing materials like posters, billboards, flyers etc.

  • Wedding signs and stationery

  • Used in cloth branding like t-shirts etc.

A PDF file format will be your best bet for any printed material.




I hope that helped to clear up any confusion around the print process and different colour values. If you have any questions regarding colour profiles or what file types to supply I am always more than happy to explain.


Amy x

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