Most businesses understand the importance of sharp, attractive designs and
employ them in their webspace and in printed products. But accomplishing
that goal means understanding the two different common color systems for
design and using them in their proper roles.
RGB: The Web Designer’s Color System
stands for Red, Green and
Blue and is the common color system for objects presented
on a TV or computer screen. This color system uses light sources in
combination to color designs by adding them together at varying intensities
to create the desired hue and color called for in the design. Thus, the
light source itself influences how the image is perceived by the human eye.
RGB is called an additive color system because it relies on adding light
sources together to produce a desired effect.
RGB is employed in designs and images that will be viewed on a screen, since
they require a light source to exist. RGB is the appropriate color system
for designing web spaces, digital advertisements and any other image
presented on a computer, tablet or smartphone screen. When you watch TV at
home, you’re seeing the RGB color system at work.
CMYK: The Best Choice for Printers and Presses
is the other common color system businesses will employ in their design
work. CMYK, however, is the go-to color system for designs that will be
printed or presented in any physical medium.
CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta,
Yellow and Key. The CMYK color system works by applying
blends of the four colors, in printed ink, to create the right color, shade
and hue for
designs when they’re printed. It’s as simple as blending the right combination of colors to create the
A note about the term “key”: Often, the “K” in CMYK is referred to as black,
under the assumption that “K” from the word black is used instead of “B” to
prevent confusing it with blue. Specifically, “K” refers to key, because
what’s known as the key plate is used to add shades of black to printed
designs. This is because merging the other three colors doesn’t produce a
shade of true black, but rather a muddled, blackish tone. Thus the need to
add a bit of black with the key plate!
CMYK is known as a subtractive color system, because it relies on removing
white from the medium it’s printed on to influence the appearance of colors
in the medium.
CMYK is the desired color system for all printed applications. Postcards,
brochures, fliers, signage, banners and posters all require CMYK for best
results. It’s important to take any designs made in RGB and convert them to
CMYK before printing.
In conclusion, the differences between the two designs are simple. RGB is
light-based and used for application that will be viewed on a screen. CMYK
is used by blending colors of ink in the printing process and is best
applied to all physical products like brochures and