"What's That?" Wednesday: CMYK vs. RGB

For the next few weeks, we are going to focus on some common print terms. Today, I will explain the difference between CMYK and RGB. As you know, CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black), while RGB stands for red, green, and blue. CMYK and RGB colors deliver differently based on what means they are being used for.


CMYK is mainly used in color printing. This works when there is a lighter or, in most cases, a white background. When printing in CMYK there is no white colored ink because it will be printed on a white background, so the white from the paper can be seen where the ink is excluded, which makes the lighter colors appear. CMYK is subtractive which means it reflects light so the ink reduces or subtracts brightness from white.

RGB is used in light-based displays such as televisions, computer monitors, and digital cameras. RGB is additive, so it projects light. It begins with black and the more color that is added the lighter it will be, all the way to white. Red, green, and blue light is added in different ways to produce a wide range of colors. 

These colors deliver differently based on how much mixing of colors needs to be done and how much white space is already available. Just because an image appears normal on your computer screen, it may not look the same after it is printed, so don’t forget to convert these if necessary!

 Photo credit: http://www.jrrowellprinting.com

Photo credit: http://www.jrrowellprinting.com

Renee Maisto

Brandmint, 1255 University Avenue, Rochester, NY, 14607