RGB vs CMYK

By Posted in - Seven Things on August 1st, 2008 0 Comments

I'm going to take a break from my branding series to talk briefly about the difference between the colors you see on your tv/computer monitor and the colors that you see on printed pieces (like magazines).

RGB stands for "Red Green Blue" and is the color model that makes up the colors you see on your screen. CMYK stands for "Cyan Magenta Yellow Black" and makes up the inks used in printers that allow you to print a million different colors. Why does this matter? Well, when designing something for print, the colors you see on your screen aren't exactly what you'll get when you actually start printing.

What makes these two things so different?

The RGB color model (or gamut) is also referred to as an "additive color" color model. Additive color means you start with nothing and add colors to get your desired hue. Usually it's the blackness of a blank computer screen until you turn it on activating your light source. Light is emitted or projected through the screen with varying amounts of red or green or blue filter combinations. Combining just these three colors will get you millions of colors and eventually pure white. And for obvious reason, another name for the RGB color model is a "projected light" model.

The CMYK color model is referred to as a "subtractive color" model. A good way of thinking about it is starting with a white piece of paper (or white light). You add ink or paint to it that interferes with the white light being reflected off the paper. The ink subtracts light wavelengths from the paper making a color. Instead of light being projected to create color in the RGB model, light is reflected off of the ink or paint to create color in the CMYK model. That's why it's also known as a "reflected light" model.

I know it can be difficult wrapping your head around these ideas (even more difficult is writing about it), but then again, matching the color from screen to print is even harder (but still not as hard as writing about it).

If you have any questions or would like to correct any of my information, or if my writing in an obsolete vernacular is throwing you off, please leave me a comment and I'll respond to you.

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