What is CMYK vs RGB ?

Whats the difference between CMYK and RGB and why it can ruin your day?

Recently I had a client come to me with a common question and unfortunalty a common problem people run into when they get design work done by an amuetuer designer. Many times someoen looking for a business card design for example may jump online, do a quick search or maybe even post a quick add on craigslist looking for a designer to design them a business card and letterhead for there new business. The Designer does the job and then sends them over the file. Next you send your file to whichever printing place you are using to print your business cards and you sit back and wait a week for your cards to show up in the mail. The Day arrives, you open your box of brand new cards and the colors are completely off. Its not what the designer sent you so it must be the printing places fault right? Wrong. What happen is the designer showed you a file that was done in RGB color mode. This mode is made for computers to show the correct colors on your screen. But when you use an RGB file to print the colors come out different. Vise-versa, if you use a CMYK image online the colors will be off. RGB is for web and CMYK is for printing.

  Screen shot 2013-06-22 at 3.39.03 PMCMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key

CMYK is the standard colour mode for sending documents – be it magazines, newspapers, flyers, brochures, annual reports and so on to the printers. It stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (or black – key because in four-colour printing, cyan, magenta, and yellow printing plates are carefully keyed, or aligned, with the key of the black key plate).

You will notice the difference in these two images. Its the same photograph/Flyer that I designed for the band HB Surround Sound and I exported one in RGB mode and the other CMYK. The RGB is on the right and CMYK the left.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen working in Photoshop or Illustrator, you have the option to set your document’s colour mode as CMYK, RGB (red, green, blue – for screen output) or other colour modes (but the former pair are the two you really need to know about).

So make sure that the files you have ready to send to a print house are the correct files. If your designer is going to send the files to a print house after he is done with the design make sure you ask him to send you the same files when he sends them to the print house. This way you can look at those files yourself and make sure they are CMYK. If you have trouble figuring out if the file is CMYK or RGB don’t hesitate to email me and I can help you figure it out.