CMYK vs. RGB: The Color Systems for Printing and Design

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.

What color to use for printing and design cmyk or rgb

RGB: The Web Designer’s Color System

RGB 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

CMYK 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 desired result.

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 postcards.