RGB vs CMYK (Computer Screens vs Print)

RGB vs CMYK (Computer Screens vs Print)

We have nightmares about color. It's everywhere yet it's extremely difficult to achieve strong color consistency. Here's our attempt to explain why.

How Our Color Perception Changes

There are many  elements that affect how we all view color but we'll name a couple here:

  • Light Source: The sun, your laptop, your nightlight, and your bathroom light produce different shades of light. 
  • Our Eyes: Each of us sees color slightly (sometimes extremely differently like this dress. As we age our eyes also change how we perceive color. Check out xrite to learn more.


  • RGB = Red, Green, Blue. Use for digital designs.
  • CMYK = Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. Use for anything printed.


RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue. It’s used exclusively in the digital design industry because it represents the same colors used in computer screens, TV screens, as well as mobile device screens.

It’s an additive color system which means that the primary colors are added together in various combinations to produce a much wider spectrum of colors. These colors are produced by blending light itself by superimposing the red, green, and blue light beam. Without any intensity, each of those colors will be perceived as black, while full intensity will make them appear white.

It’s also worth mentioning that different intensities of each color will produce the hue of a particular color. The resulting color will also appear more or less saturated depending on the difference between the most and the least intensive color.

When should you use the RGB color system?

As a general rule of thumb, the RGB color system should be used only in digital designs, most commonly when designing for the web. This includes designing websites and imagery and graphics for use on websites and social media.

If you want to use those designs in print, you will have to convert it to the CMYK color system.


CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (Black). Black, in this case, is referred to as key because it is used in the key plate which is responsible for adding the contrast and the detail for the final image.

The CMYK color system is most commonly referred to as the four-color process because it uses four different colors to produce different hues. The black color here is used because the other three colors combined cannot produce a fully saturated black.

Unlike the RGB color system, CMYK is a subtractive color model because the printed ink reduces the light that would normally be reflected. Ink subtracts the brightness from a white background from those four colors.

The CMYK colors are mixed during the printing process which can sometimes cause minor inconsistencies. For that reason, you should always look at the printed proof of a given project before going through with the full print run.

We print using CMYK

All of our digital and offset printing presses print in CMYK. Therefore, when designing for print, you will have the greatest color accuracy when designing in CMYK. 

To change your files to work in a CMYK color flow:

  • In Photoshop, click Image > Mode > CMYK Color.
  • In Illustrator, click File > Document Color Mode > CMYK Color.
  • In InDesign, click Window > Color, then click the dropdown button in the upper right corner and select CMYK.

Florescent Colors Are a BIG No No 

Why? It is simply because a printer cannot hit that color with its electric light source. The human eye has a greater range of color perception. If we tried to print a florescent colors it colors would turn out like the ones image A even no matter how much the creator tried to match the colors in image B. Even then, image B is not perfect so if you see florescent colors in clients files, flag it up to Tim and/ Leiman immediately.  

Image A:

Image B: