Time To Read: 3 minutes


There are two color modes for designs: RGB and CMYK. There are many differences between the two, and the mode you pick will affect your overall design.


With the invention of technology came a new color mode, RGB. This stands for Red, Green, and Blue. These colors are in the screen on your computer, smartphone, tablet, or any other electronic device. The RBG process is called “additive color,” which means that when more color is added, more light is reflected back into your eye.

Think of it like a flashlight. You start with a blank black space, and when you add a color it adds light, resulting in a brighter color. Adding blue to red creates magenta, red and green make yellow, blue and green make cyan. When all three colors are combined (or more accurately, all turned on at the same time), it creates white. When all the colors are off, you’re back to black.

Much like a printer, your screen is made of tiny little dots. Different combinations of red, green, and blue combine to create the colors displayed. The combination of colors is endless, and RGB values can create bright and neon colors easily.


CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black, which are the four colors found in your printer. This is the traditional design format and is referred to as “subtractive color.” The subtractive process happens when you add more color to a piece of paper and more light is absorbed, resulting in a darker color.

Think of it as adding ink on paper (which is exactly what your printer does.) You start with blank white space, and as you add color the page gets darker and darker. Adding magenta to yellow creates red, yellow and cyan makes green, cyan and magenta makes blue. When you add all three colors together you get a dark brown. That when the black ink comes into play.

When a printer prints a document, it’s actually printed using a bunch of tiny, tiny dots. Different combinations of cyan, magenta, and yellow create the various colors and the black helps to make shadows darker and create true blacks in a photo. Because of this, the color range is limited and CMYK values cannot produce bright or neon colors very well. They will look dull on paper.


When designing a document, you have to know what the ultimate outcome will be. If the document is going to stay on a screen of any kind, RGB color mode will produce the widest and range and brightest colors. However, if the document is going to be printed, it is best to use the CMYK color mode. Using this from the beginning will prevent later frustrations when the printed item is not as bright or lively on paper as it was on screen. CMYK can easily be converted to RGB without much change, but going from RGB to CMYK can cause the colors to become dull when printed on paper.

A picture converted from RGB to CMYK

Source: Ashworth Creative

How different colors will look in RGB and CMYK

Source: The Castle Press

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