RGB creative design
CMYK creative design

As Graphic Designers, it is essential to know when to use RGB vs CMYK. The main difference between RGB (RED, GREEN and BLUE) and CMYK (CYAN, MAGENTA, YELLOW and BLACK) is that RGB is used for web design projects or any design that will only be displayed in a digital format. CMYK is, simply put, used for printing. Read on about the importance of RGB vs CMYK in design.

The printing press of old

Back in the printing press days each ink (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) had its own plate. In a process to achieve the right colours, they would print using the first plate, let it dry and then the next plate and so on. Printing presses still work the same today with the exception that offset printers can use spot colour printing, which refers to a method of specifying and printing colors in which each color is printed with its own ink. This means that they can match a colour to a specific pantone – a system for matching colours, used in specifying printing inks.

RGB and CMYK which one is which?

Now to elaborate a little bit more on why it is so important to use RGB and CMYK for the correct type of designs.

  1. When one designs something that will be displayed in a digital format it has to be RGB. The main reason for this is because a computer monitor gives off coloured light. This is known as RGB, and these are the three colours that allow your computer monitor to display such a wide range of colours. RGB has a much larger gamut (range) than printing does and so if you use CMYK for a RGB project, the monitor won’t be able to display your design to its full potential.


  1. CMYK is a subtractive colour model used in colour printing. The K in CMYK stands for Black or the KEY colour. In a printing press the colour is usually applied in the order of the abbreviation. This allows the printer to build up the exact colours that have been used in your design.


  1. If you try and print a RGB file, you will find that your colours are not represented correctly on the printed document. An easy way to see the difference between printing a RGB file and a CMYK file is by identifying how you have specified the black elements in your design. If you dragged the colour picker to the darkest corner of the colour table, instead of entering the CMYK value of 100% for each colour, you will find that on the screen it shows as black, but as soon as print it out you will see that it looks more like a dark grey than pure black.

Correct use of colour

As designers we always want to create designs that amaze the target audience. We need to be pedantic about font sizes, spacing, amount of elements and most importantly, the correct use of colour. Using the correct colour modes for the specific type of design that you are working on, will ensure that your work has a crisp, clean look which equates to a “quality” design. If the wrong colour mode is used your work will unfortunately look faded, dull or just not as good as it can be, this equates into a “cheap” or “poor” design.

So use the right colour modes for your work, we all take pride in what we do and we should know that our work is done to the best of our abilities so that the client will be happy with the end result.

Now you know how to make the colour in your designs pop.

Happy designing.