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What's the difference between CMYK and RGB?

Good question. These terms are thrown around a lot in the printing and graphics world, and it's important to understand the difference.

  • CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and "Key," or black) are the ink colors used during the printing process. The term "key" is used instead of "black" because, really, this is a mixture of the cyan, magenta, and yellow inks — the resulting "black" can be minutely different from one printing company to another. 
    CMYK_Revised.png
  • RGB (Red, Green, and Blue) are the colors of light used by your monitor to display your document on-screen. Black is not listed because on-screen black is an absence of light. A mixture of red, green, and blue light produces white.

RGB_Revised.png

How does this affect me?
Any image you create on your computer should be created in CMYK mode. This will ensure that the colors you see on-screen will most closely match the final printed product. If you create your document in RGB, the colors in your printed product may vary slightly: many of the bright values produced by your monitor cannot be exactly reproduced in print.

A lot of digital images are JPEG files, and JPEGs are almost always in RGB.

Note: Printers, regardless of their type, are unable to print in RGB.

How can I learn more?
If you want to learn more about CMYK and RGB, check out this video on the topic:

 

Skip to a specific topic in the video by following these quick references:

  • 00:00 - RGB vs CMYK: What’s the difference?
  • 00:50 - What is RGB?
  • 01:47 - When do you use RGB?
  • 02:16 - What is CMYK?
  • 03:09 - When do you use CMYK?