rgb vs cmyk digital computer with commercial printer

CMYK vs RGB and What Is Best for Printing

Read time: 5 minutes  |  Author: PRI Graphics  |  Posted: February 16th, 2022

Do you know the difference between CMYK vs RGB colors and how they are used?

While both color palettes are used for mixing to create virtually any other hue within the color spectrum, what exactly is the difference between CMYK vs RGB? Hint: One is a “subtractive” process and the other is an “additive” process.

This is something you should know when Preparing Print Ready Files.

animated man showcasing digital elements and rgb file types

RBG Colors – Red, Green & Blue

These primary colors are best for digital work. Generally used for computer monitors, digital cameras, smart phones, scanners, TV screens, etc. RGB color mixing is an “ADDITIVE PROCESS.

The digital world starts from blackness and adds varying intensities of red, green and blue light. To then create the digital color image we see on the screen. As a designer, you will have full control to vary the degree of intensity, saturation, and shading of the three primary colors. RGB colors are ideal if your images will only be displayed digitally. Common file formats might include jpeg and png images or animated, motion capture gifs.

Fun Fact

Did you know that when RGB color lights combine they make “White?”

When designing for digital mediums, in terms of CMYK vs RGB, RGB colors are preferred and will help you avoid discrepancies with color profiles. In other words, if your images or design will exist in the virtual world such as on social media or for online advertising, RGB colors are best.

animated man showcasing print elements and cmyk file types

CMYK Colors – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black

The mixing of CMYK colors is a “SUBTRACTIVE PROCESS” that gives more accurate results than RGB. CMYK images are created by combining actual ink colors during the color printing process. In the print world the color process starts with “white.” Each layer of the 4 ink colors then serve to “reduce” the initial brightness in order to vary the hues and create the desired image.

We also now use digital white ink printing technology, which allows us to print on dark paper!

The CMYK color model is universally used for commercial process printing of full color magazines and marketing materials like signage, brochures, posters, flyers, etc. The best file formats for CMYK include PDFs, AI, and EPS.

Fun Fact

Did you know that when CMYK color lights combine they make “Black?”

Why RGB Must Be Converted for Printing

Can you use CMYK vs RGB colors for computer graphics? The answer is yes. With modern software programs like Adobe Illustrator, you can choose to work either with CMYK or RGB colors.

However, in order to do four color printing at a commercial printer, your files that use RGB colors must first be converted over to CMYK colors. Why, you ask? That’s because, when printing, CMYK is best for true color reproduction since, with few exceptions, almost the entire color spectrum can be reproduced with just the four CMYK process ink colors.

Keep in mind that computer monitors use RGB colors. CMYK vs RGB colors on computer monitors may not always display the same. Also, RGB colors on your monitor won’t match the final printed product as well as CMYK colors.

Therefore, you will have more control if you convert from RGB to CMYK before sending your files to the printers. This will help ensure the final colors are exactly, or as close to exact, as you would want.

animated man taking notes about commercial print equipment

Why RGB Colors Can’t Always Be Reproduced in Print

We mentioned that the combination of RGB colors creates “WHITE” and the combination of CMYK creates “BLACK.” Also, not all computer monitors are calibrated exactly the same. This is why it is not physically possible to reproduce the RGB colors you see on the monitor when your images are commercially printed.

Our printing experts here at PRI Graphics can help you if there any concerns about reproducing specific colors. Ask us about how to create effective presentation visuals.

You can also download our Design Guidelines, which should assist you or your design team with setting up your print projects properly for a commercial printer. Our post on Print Industry Acronyms & Terms might also be helpful.

About PRI Graphics in Phoenix AZ

As a Phoenix commercial printing company, PRI Graphics & Signs offers professional printing services not only to clients in Arizona but also all across America, as well as around the world.

Whether you need small format digital printing, large format graphics printing or sign printing, no job is too large or too small. We can print anything from postcards, brochures, and flyers to car wraps, construction signage, and commercial wall coverings.

If you still have questions about CMYK vs RGB, or if you would like more information about our printing company, please or call us toll free at 1-877-409-8889 or send us an email.

For in-house graphic design services, we can be reached locally at 602-393-3131.

About the Author

PRI Graphics headshot

PRI Graphics – Director, Marketing & Brand Management

PRI Graphics is a marketing and design expert who is passionate about new emerging trends in digital media and business strategy. A member of AMA with a PCM® in marketing management, he continues to strengthen his knowledge and skill sets in the marketing ecosystem. Prior to joining PRI, he pursued a career in filmmaking and carries on the passion for brand development.