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WTF Is That? RBG vs CMYK Artwork

When submitting artwork for a project, we get a lot of questions regarding color quality. So we thought it would be good idea to break down the difference between RGB (red, green and blue), or the primary colors of light, and CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black), or the primary colors of pigment.

When you design for print you have to keep in mind that certain colors you see on screen aren’t available to be printed in standard inks. All screen graphics displayed on your monitor, by default, are the RGB color scheme because light is displayed through your screen, allowing a fuller range of color.

As you create your artwork and use various effects, you’ll see that switching from RGB to CMYK color mode will lock you out of various functions inside photoshop. Also, layer effects display differently once you switch over. Sometimes the change from RGB to CMYK is hardly noticeable, but there are cases where colors can shift drastically from what you see on screen and what actually gets printed.

If you’re going to convert RGB artwork to CMYK, it’s a good idea to flatten your art beforehand then make the conversion to CMYK. Many layer effects and opacities will look different depending on how you convert your artwork. After you convert to CMYK, we also recommend to color-correct your conversion by toggling the saturation sliders, rebalancing your levels, and comparing the before and after versions to have your darks stay dark and your colors stay colorful.

Figure 1: This diagram is a great example of showing the difference between CMYK and RGB color spectrums. There is a drastic decrease in vibrance and color depth in the CMYK area
Figure 2: This is a look at the visual color spectrums. As you can see CMYK has limitations when it comes to the type of color builds you can use. Photoshop will offer you all sorts of deep colors and awesome effects that look dynamic on screen. However, when you design for print it’s a good idea to shift away from the very deep RGB colors because they will not print anywhere near as nicely as they look on screen. To enhance colors for print, we can use gloss coatings to add that depth back into your print.
Figure 3: Here is an example of a color conversion gone wild on press (these are not typical results but it can happen). The color submitted by the artist was RGB and was converted to CMYK and you can already see the drastic shift. Then the press was running a bit red and the artwork came out looking very purple. This is typically something seen in the deep purple/blue spectrum where colors can act very different on the page vs the screen.

Do you have additional questions about submitting artwork for your upcoming project? Hit us up!

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