Close this search box.
Close this search box.

CMYK vs RGB: What’s the Difference and Why Does It Matter?

CMYK vs RGB: What’s the Difference and Why Does It Matter?

Table of Contents

What Is the Difference Between RGB And CMYK?

There is a big difference between RGB and CMYK color mixing modes in terms of what they’re used for. For digital designs (like web, TV, or phone files), RGB is the primary color mode, while CMYK is used for printed designs (such as T-shirts, flyers, or business cards). 

Apart from this main difference, RGB and CMYK color modes also differ in their primary colors, mixing modes, and maximum color yields. Colors are created by light through an additive process called RGB. White light is created by combining red, green, and blue primary colors. 

CMYK is the opposite of RGB. As a result, pigment creates the color and mixing is a subtractive process. Black is made up of the primary colors cyan, magenta, and yellow. In “CMYK,” black represents the “K.” 

An RGB print has 16.7 million color combinations, whereas a CMYK print has 16,000 colors. Even though RGB files have more color options, they are usually smaller than CMYK files. 

The Importance of Using the right color mode

Having accurate color representation is crucial for print purposes. Converting RGB to CMYK often results in color shifts, sometimes even drastic ones. It’s important to note that a design originally in CMYK converted to RGB yields the same outcome.

Moreover, certain colors cannot be faithfully reproduced in one color mode over the other. Neon colors, for instance, cannot be printed with CMYK inks, but they can be displayed accurately on a computer monitor using RGB.

To achieve effective design outcomes, it is essential to choose the appropriate color mode for your print project and workflow. This ensures that the finished print product displays accurate colors and delivers the best possible results.

Why CMYK Color mode is more suitable for Print Purposes?

Accurate color mode is crucial for print purposes. CMYK, consisting of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, is the color model commonly used in conventional printing. The “K” in CMYK stands for black, which acts as the key color, setting the foundation for the design while other ink colors are layered on top. Cyan, magenta, and yellow are secondary colors in this model.

By employing the appropriate CMYK color mode, it is possible for printers to achieve faithful color reproduction, ensuring the final printed output accurately reflects the intended design. This meticulous control over ink combinations allows for precise color representation and consistent results in printed materials. Understanding the significance of CMYK and its color components is vital for achieving the desired visual impact in print media.

Why you should not use RGB Color mode for Print Purposes?

Using RGB color mode for print purposes may lead to undesirable outcomes. RGB, representing Red, Green, and Blue, is primarily used for displaying digital images on screens such as monitors, TVs, and phones. Unlike CMYK, which follows a subtractive model, RGB operates on an additive model.

When RGB images are printed using CMYK inks, color conversions occur, potentially resulting in color shifts and inaccuracies. The color range and gamut in RGB far exceed what can be reproduced with CMYK inks, leading to limitations and a loss of vibrancy in printed materials.

To ensure accurate and faithful color representation in print, it is essential to work with the appropriate color mode, such as CMYK, which is specifically designed for the subtractive process of printing.

The Differences Between CMYK and RGB

Having discussed how RGB and CMYK work, let’s consider some of their main differences.

1. The Color Gamut

CMYK and RGB differ primarily in their color gamut or number of colors they can display.

Because it uses a small set of inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black), CMYK can only produce a limited number of colors. The proportions of these inks are varied to create different colors.

Due to the fact that RGB uses light instead of ink, it can produce a wider range of colors. The intensity of red, green, and blue light can be varied to create millions of colors.

So, What is a color gamut?

Color gamut refers to the range of colors that can be displayed by a color mode. In comparison with CMYK, the RGB color gamut is much larger.

2. The Default Color Mode

Whenever you open a design program like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, the default color mode is used.

The default color mode for most design programs is RGB. The default color mode for a new canvas is RGB. 

Some programs, however, use CMYK as the default color mode. CorelDRAW, for example, use the CMYK color mode by default.

3. The Printing Process

The printing process is the main reason for CMYK’s existence. For printing, CMYK is the color mode used – cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink are used.

Printing the colors in the right order is also important. The cyan image is always printed first, then a magenta image, then a yellow image, and finally a black image. It is called the “Four-Color Process.”

4. The Output Device

A major difference between RGB and CMYK is the output device. It displays or prints your design. For CMYK, the output device is printed products, while for RGB, the output device is displays. 

Exceptions do exist, however.

5. Brighter Colors

Colors in RGB mode tend to be brilliant. Ink is naturally less vibrant than light, since RGB uses light to create color. Colors appear more vibrant on digital devices because they have backlit screens.

By comparison, CMYK colors tend to be slightly muted because they use inks instead of light. Muted colors aren’t necessarily bad – some of the best designs have muted colors.

How to Set the Color Mode in Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop makes changing the color mode very easy. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  2. Click on “Image” in the menu bar at the top of the screen.
  3. Hover over “Mode.”
  4. Click on the color mode you want to use (RGB or CMYK).

How to Set the Color Mode in Illustrator

In Adobe Illustrator, you can set the color mode just as easily. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Open your image in Illustrator.
  2. Click on “File” in the menu bar at the top of the screen.
  3. Hover over “Document Color Mode.”
  4. Click on the color mode you want to use (RGB or CMYK). 

Converting between color modes can sometimes result in color shifts and loss of color data. CMYK and RGB cannot accurately depict all colors.

In order to create a print-ready design, you should start with CMYK. Consequently, all the colors in your design will be accurately represented in the final print.


Can I print RGB images?

You can print RGB images. Before your image is printed, the colors will be converted to CMYK. So, there’s a chance that some of the colors in your image will be slightly different in the final print.

Should I convert an RGB image to CMYK before printing?

Converting RGB images to CMYK is usually a good idea before printing. Using this method, you can be sure that your final print accurately portrays all of the colors in your image. 

There’s always a chance that some colors will appear differently after the conversion. The best way to achieve ideal color accuracy and consistency is by starting in CMYK from the beginning, especially if you’re working on a very color-sensitive design.

We have a dedicated Telegram channel that will allow you to receive updates, print offers, and links to our latest print service discount! Join us now:

Share this Article


Contact Information