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RGB vs CMYK – Colors for the web vs print

Working together with web and print designs can be tricky and learning how color works can be the key to getting a successful color calibration for both your website and your printed designs such as business cards and brochures.

Web design uses color as RGB (red, green, blue) and print design uses color as CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black.) Basically, monitors emit light and papers absorb light.  Computer monitors show color as red, green and blue light at a low-medium resolution usually 72-75 dots per inch. Print  production usually requires the four-color process CMYK in high resolution of at least 300 dpi.

Although all colors can be achieved by merging red, green and blue light, monitors are capable of displaying only a limited range of the visible spectrum. So when you want to convert your web files to produce artwork for business cards or brochures, changing the format from RGB to CMYK is very important for those printed documents.  If you are using Adobe Photoshop select: Menu> Image> Mode> CMYK when you begin a new file.

Printers who accept RGB files automatically convert the images to CMYK and that can result in faded, dull or inaccurate color representation in the final project. Converting your file to CMYK gives you better control over the final image outcome.

CMYK VERSUS RGB

Susan Sullivan

Susan is co-owner of Sumy Designs and represents the creative side of the Sumy team. Susan has a strong background in graphic design, marketing and advertising with over 20 years of experience.Susan is a WordPress enthusiast and when she isn't designing websites, she is a marathon runner and environmental activist. Read her full bio.

7 Comments

  1. nihal on August 5, 2017 at 8:54 am

    so if i am designing a logo that is going for both web and print, then i start with RGB, save it and then convert to CMYK. Am i right?

    • Amy Masson on January 26, 2018 at 10:00 am

      Sorry for the late response, but I would start with CMYK and then save to RGB for web.

  2. Tim Masterson on October 5, 2017 at 11:57 am

    I am learning this the hard way. I received beautiful RGB digital designs for my latest album. The printer company I am using for this album (CD’s) is requesting CMYK only. I saw the CMYK proof and it was dull and lifeless. I believe the key, as you stated above, is to have the design created initially in CMYK and get the most out of those colors. I wish I knew this at the onset as all digital illustrations are complete and are in RGB.

    Thank you for this information! :~)

  3. Elma on March 16, 2018 at 2:06 am

    Hi Amy, I am using Coral Draw as my designing platform. If I design a logo that would be used for both web and printing (Business cards, billboards etc) should I then start my new document as a CMYK document and then after I’ done with the design, convert it to RGB before saving?? Would you then present both designs (CMYK and RGB) to your client for them to have both? Also what is the best format to save vectorized logo’s in? PNG?

    • Susan Sullivan on March 16, 2018 at 8:22 am

      Hi Elma, I work primarily in Adobe Illustrator, so I’m not sure about Corel. But, I start my document as CMYK. Your EPS file will be your vector and is CMYK. You can save your JPGS/TIFFS as CMYK or RGB. PNG is only RGB.

  4. Kacey Fischer on May 7, 2018 at 2:03 pm

    HI there, if I’m editing images in Photoshop they seem to start in RGB, I just saved an image as CMYK and then tried to do a test load and print at just Walgreens and their system won’t accept the CMYK file but will take the RGB. Everything else is the same.
    My images look great on my monitor and online, but many are dark and weird when printed and I haven’t been able to figure out why. I just found this post of yours and was hoping it would help, but it seems like there is something more to it?

    • Susan Sullivan on May 7, 2018 at 3:46 pm

      Hi Kasey, Many digital printers now use RGB because it is easiest for file formats while many printing presses still use CMYK. I’ve had really good luck with Adoramapix for my photographs. They allow you to upload a photo and look at the print before printing. They also can give you tips on setting up your photoshop file before printing. My RGB file formats have looked excellent when I’ve printed with them.

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