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CMYK vs. RGB For Printing

Updated: Feb 23

Color is crucial in digital printing. As a business owner, you likely use colorful projects to advertise your services. If you are a visual media creator, you are aware of how important it is to use color well since it draws attention. So, what differentiates CMYK vs RGB for printing?

Even the best illustrations and digital content won’t be as successful if the creators don’t choose the proper color mode. But RGB and CMYK are color modes that can significantly alter the overall look of a piece.

In this article, we discuss how to choose between these two options based on the needs and preferences of your organization. We also assist with creating digital prints in a design and color scheme you consider most suitable.

CMYK vs RGB for Printing

The two main color choices for visual media include CMYK and RGB. However, choosing the right one may significantly impact the result of your project. Thus, it’s important to distinguish between CMYK vs RGB for printing.

Many consider RGB as a better option for on-screen viewing. However, CMYK is known for giving better results for printed media. Here, we will provide an in-depth look at their differences and whether you should choose RGB or CMYK for digital printing.

CMYK vs RGB for Printing
Source: / Photo Contributor: REDPIXEL.PL

Primary Colors

The main difference between CMYK and RGB for printing is their color combination. RGB includes the red, green, and blue colors. With this option, we use primary colors that can be easily mixed and create various colors.

In contrast, CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and key. This color model is special because it involves the term key. Many of our clients don’t know that it refers to the color black and usually determines the outcome of an image.

Mixing mode

The RGB color scheme offers a greater range of colors. Yet, CMYK doesn’t allow us the possibility to produce brighter colors. Lighter hues are incompatible with the CMYK range. Due to this, they may come out darker and dull when we print them than what our clients see on the display.

Our team of creatives discovered that documents shown in CMYK mode always look sharp both on-screen and when we print them. But RGB colors sometimes appear differently in print than on-screen, offering a completely different look to the final product.

When we compare CMYK vs RGB for printing, they both come with certain disadvantages. However, the low number of shades the CMYK model offers is sometimes considered an advantage. We find them easier to standardize, remaining precise and consistent during digital printing.

Maximum color yield

RGB combines red, green, and blue to create a white, bright light. But CMYK has an opposite mode. Unlike RGB, CMYK combines cyan, magenta, and yellow to create black.

Also, the maximum color combinations of RGB reach over 16.7 million, whereas CMYK has 16,000 color possibilities. Be that as it may, CMYK files are still larger than RGB files despite their limited color yield.


RGB contains the perfect colors for our clients who want their designed media to be displayed on a screen. Using the RGB color palette, we can produce images for online usage, infographics, logos, graphs, and UI design forms.

In comparison, CMYK is primarily used for printed media. We use it for clients who want to print flyers, posters, album covers, book covers, T-shirts with printed designs, newsletters, and magazines.

File formats

The best option for CMYK file formats is PDF. Since this format is designed for print, clients who want to create multiple-page documents like magazines or leaflets usually request them. PDFs are also compatible with many programs suitable for printed media requirements.

When it comes to RGB file formats, JPG and PNG are the best file format options. JPG is popular for digital files due to its smaller file size, good quality, and good compressibility. In addition, PNG file formats are smaller in size, allowing us to achieve good image transparency during printing.

How to Convert RGB to CMYK Without Losing Color

As a commercial printing service, we have discovered that converting RGB to CMYK is not a simple process. A design may look great on a computer screen but may become muted when we print it. So, how do you convert RGB to CMYK without losing color?

It’s complicated to convert between RGB and CMYK without some amount of color variation. Thus, we test our prints using high-quality equipment to see how the colors might turn out. We also suggest to our clients what is their best option and what measures we take to manage colors.

Luckily, we found ways to change color modes in all standard designs. When we do this, the colors change slightly. Yet, we altered the colors to make them look the same as they did before. We also discovered that accurate change of a design’s color mode can be done with the help of digital tools like Photoshop and Illustrator.

How to Convert RGB to CMYK
Source: / Photo Contributor: Dmitry Nikolaev

CMYK vs RGB for Printing: Which Option Is Better?

For projects intended for print, we recommend opting for CMYK to ensure precision in the final output. On the other hand, if the goal is to share the design online, we've observed that RGB provides the most expansive color range for optimal results. The decision between these two depends on our client's circumstances.

Clients should bear in mind that color isn’t the main factor in digital printing. Of course, color can bring a design to life, however, other design elements, like clarity, must be high-quality for the best outcome. This way, they invest in the best illustrations to match their vision.


We hope we helped you identify the differences between CMYK vs RGB for printing. These two color modes have different file applications, outputs, and designs. Thus, choosing one or the other may affect the overall appearance of your project’s design.

If you require some commercial printing services, feel free to contact us!

Steve Bates

Steve is the president of CityPress and brings a wealth of knowledge from the printing industry to readers, helping them make more informed decisions in an ever changing printing space.


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