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RGB vs CMYK

“But that’s not how it looks like on my screen!”

Not a day goes by that we don’t hear that! In this blog, we’re going to explain why you will never see in print what you see on your screen.

It all comes down to this: Monitors display in RGB and Printers print in CMYK. This can be a bit technical for the average person who just wants to print some headshots so we’ll try to keep it short and simple.

Firstly, let’s explain what the two color profiles mean. RGB is short for Red, Green and Blue. CMYK is short for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. It seems hard to believe that all the colors you see on screen and in print are broken down into those colors, but they are!

The main thing to remember

RGB will render an image that is brighter and saturated while CMYK has a tendency to desaturate and darken an image. So, if you really want to get a better idea of what your pictures will look like, you’ll want to convert them to CMYK. When you do that, you’ll see a slight color shift, depending on the image quality and type of monitor you’re using.

Nearly all printers (including ourselves) print in CMYK so you’ll have to keep that in mind when sending us a file for print. Normally, the color shift isn’t that big of a deal, but if you’re concerned about color, we would recommend getting a color proof. Please note that color proofs will add a few extra days to the production time.

How to print in high definition like your screen

You can’t. In the print world, there is no such thing as high definition. There is only CMYK inks and those inks have limits to what they can do.

Here are just a few examples of CMYK’s limits:

  • Gold will print as a yellow color.
  • Neon green will print as a light yellow-greenish color.
  • Silver will print as mid tone gray.

Why do you print in CMYK? Why not print in RGB?

It all comes down to ink. Most printers print in CMYK so most inks are produced in CMYK color. CMYK gives printers more flexibility and control over the colors of a file. Finally, RGB was never really intended to be used for print it was always meant for use on monitors.

To help you along, here’s a checklist of what to keep in mind when printing with us (or anyone, really)

  • Monitors display in RGB and Printers print in CMYK
  • RGB will be more saturated and has a larger range of colors it can display
  • CMYK be more desaturated and cannot print has a limited range of colors it can print.
  • When in doubt, print a color proof out!

Hopefully, that helps explain the difference between RGB and CMYK files. If it doesn’t you can always send us an email or give us a call!

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