VIa Idea #32

8 Sep

What’s the difference between CMYK and RGB colors and which one is better?

A client recently asked this question during a discussion about updating her company’s marketing pieces. But it’s not a question of better; it’s a question of when to use which. Let me clarify—if the finished product will be printed, then CMYK colors will be specified. But if the finished product will be electronic, then RGB is the color mix.

CMYK refers to cyan (blue), magenta (red), yellow and black inks. A printing press applies each color to paper separately to build up the image into the full-color photo or graphic image that you see in a newspaper, magazine, or brochure.

RGB, as you might guess, refers to red, green and blue, the primary colors of light that your computer monitor and iPhone use to display screen images. Software allows you to view the images by mixing these three colors. The color capability of your device determines how well the colors will display. SuperVGA (SVGA) mode can display up to 16,777,216 (16.8 million) colors; a 16-bit display is only capable of producing 65,536 colors. Although you would think that more than 65,000 colors would be more than enough, we need as many colors as we can get to display that logo just right.

Graphic designers work first in RGB mode, as that’s what they’re seeing on their monitors as they work. If the finished piece will be printed, they’ll convert the files before sending them to the printer. We often send a client a work in progress via email in pdf or jpg format. When getting the color just right is critical, we’ll sometimes suggest a press proof.

I’ve way oversimplified the printing process, and haven’t even yet addressed when to use a vector file and when a raster format is needed. Take a look at the sidebar and see the infographic for a quick lesson. Want more information? Contact me and I’ll share more technical explanations.

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