What is the difference between RGB and CMYK


One of the most common questions we get asked is the difference between RGB and CMYK. Having an understanding of the difference is very important if you want your designs to be right. Using RGB in your large format, printing can end up with you having dramatically different results than what you hoped for.

Knowing the difference between the 2 colour modes allows you to plan your design and optimise it for the best results. Depending on how you will use your final design will depend on which colour mode is correct for the project.

Essentially both RGB and CMYK are ways of mixing colours in graphic design. A rough guide reference would be that RGB is best for any digital work, which will only be viewed on-screen, whereas CMYK is used for physical printed products, such as signs and banners.

What is RGB colour mode? RGB stands for RED, GREEN, BLUE and is the colour space for digital images. It should be used for designs that are only going to be viewed on digital screens. In fact, your computer, laptop, phone or tablet all use RGB screens.

RGB uses a light source to mix the 3 colours at varying intensity, giving you the full range of the colour spectrum. All colours begin as black and then red, green and blue light is added on top of each other to brighten it and create the perfect pigment. When red, green and blue light is mixed together at equal intensity, they make pure white.

When to use RGB? If your final design or project is only going to be viewed in digital formats, such as on laptops, computers, Televisions or Smartphones, then RGB is ideal as it has a higher colour gamut to choose from.

Design projects for RGB include: Website Branding

App Design

Digital Logo/Icons

Online Social Media



What is CMYK? CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key/Black and is the colour space for printed materials.

Large format digital printers create your design or image by combining various amounts of the 4 coloured inks. These inks are nearly always applied to a white printing media, such as correx, foamex, dibond or paper. All colours start as blank white, and each layer of ink reduces the initial brightness to create the preferred colour. When all colours are mixed, they create pure black. Technically it isn’t a true black; it is more a brown. To create a nice rich black colour in your design the best mix of colours to achieve this is C 70 M 50 Y 30 K 100

When to use CMYK? CMYK is a must for any project that is going to be physically printed onto any substrate. If you leave your design as RGB, then the printers RIP software will automatically convert it. Modern RIP software’s often do an outstanding job of the conversion, but you can still get some surprising results.

Design projects for CMYK include: Business Stationery

Business Cards

Vinyl or paper stickers

Correx Boards

Foamex Signs

Dibond Signage

Printed Acrylic

Perspex Signs


Vehicle Graphics



Promotional Items

Roller Banners

PVC Banner

In conclusion, knowing your colour modes will save you time, money and effort and ensure that your designs are vibrant and help you stand out from the crowd if you are not sure how your design will be used and if it is going to be used digitally. In print then it would be best to stick to CMYK.

For more information on  What is the difference between RGB and CMYK  talk to  GJ Plastics Ltd

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