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CMYK vs. RGB: What’s the Difference? | DESIGN@WORK Blog


CMYK vs. RGB: What's the Difference?

CMYK vs. RGB: What’s the Difference?

While we are working on your digital images, there are two basic color spaces, also known as modes, that we encounter: RGB and CMYK. They’re not as complicated as you think! For now, let’s focus on the specific use of each mode. This is an important differentiation because utilizing the correct color mode for how the image is being used will get you the best results possible.


RGB is short for Red, Green, Blue. It is the color of the light emitted from your computer monitor; when RGB light is combined, the image gets brighter. RGB mode is used for anything that will be viewed onscreen. This includes anything online, in an email, evites, and pictures being viewed on a computer monitor or TV.



13-0206-colormodes-CMYKCMYK is short for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black. These are the inks used in 4-color printing; when the inks are layered on top of each other the image gets darker. CMYK mode is used for anything that is being physically reproduced, such as postcards, flyers, posters, etc.



Here’s an example of what the difference between RGB and CMYK looks like on screen. Notice the RGB image is brighter and more vibrant — that’s because it’s using the correct color space!

When we switch between the two modes you can see a noticeable difference in the vibrancy and in some instances, a shift in color. RGB mode is usually brighter and more vibrant due to the way the colors are ‘mixed’ and displayed on the screen. When prepping images for printing, we bring them into Adobe Photoshop and change the mode to CMYK so we can see a closer representation of how it will look once printed. That way we can decide if it needs any tweaking (color, contrast, sharpness) before we send it to print. If an RGB image gets sent to the printer, it will automatically be converted to CMYK, but be aware, the colors will differ from what you see onscreen!

When we are handling vector images (such as logos, diagrams and graphics) we use Adobe Illustrator to convert them to either RGB or CMYK color mode as well. This is an important part of keeping your image and brand in line. One of the things that helps us do this is your brand palette and brand guide. Here is where we set the color breakdowns for both RGB and CMYK modes for your company colors. Because we always use the correct color breakdown for each mode, you end up with a consistent brand, and the best results possible — whether it’s onscreen images, or printed collateral.