Color System Clarity - The Difference Between RGB & CMYK

RGB and CMYK are the two most prominent color models used in design. The first step to understanding color systems is to understand the differences between these two formats.

To begin, colors are not possible without light, because color is light that is either reflected off of objects we see or viewed directly from a light source. There are two ways to reproduce colors and depending on the final product, Adworkshop uses two different color systems in its designs.

RGB – The Additive Color System (Internet, Video, Television)

RGB uses RED (R), GREEN (G) and BLUE (B) from a direct light source to make all the colors you see on a television or computer screen. These start on a black background (no light at all) and as you lay the primary colored lights over each other in various amounts you produce millions of colors. Combining one of these additive primary colors with another produces the secondary colors of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow (CMY). Combining all three primary colors produces white. This is the way a digital camera, scanner and video camera captures the colors – using light.

CMYK – The Subtractive Color System (Print/Creative Team)

CMYK, on the other hand, uses inks of the primary colors of CYAN (C), MAGENTA (M), and YELLOW (Y) and reflective light. This system starts with a white background (paper) that reflects the light and uses inks to absorb (or subtract) portions of the white light illuminating the paper to produce other colors. In theory, CMY, when combined should produce black, but because of impurities in the inks you end up with a muddy dark brown. So in the printing process, BLACK is added as a "Key" color and is the K in CMYK.

Working With RGB and CMYK

So when the print/creative team is designing your project, the Internet team is working with the RGB color system and the print/creative team is working with CMYK. Mixing these two systems can create some headaches for the designers. Adding more CMYK inks produces darker colors (remember putting your Easter Eggs into each color die pot and the color you ended up with?) and adding more RGB lights makes the colors brighter (after all it is a light show!). In CMYK mode white is defined as the complete lack of color and in RGB mode it is the maximum of each color.

Colors from a digital camera are already RGB and can be used for a website. The RGB image from a digital camera or that is downloaded from the Internet must be brought into a photo editing program and changed into a CMYK color mode for use in print advertising.

A savvy designer can vastly improve a project with this experience and knowledge. Our value-add and quality of project comes through based on our ability to cross back and forth and keep colors showing strong and vibrant. For more information on our work or to get more clarity contact us today.

Linda Jones - 2013-05-09

Chugach Powder Guides
Cooperstown/Otsego County Tourism
Elk Lake Lodge
Inspire Network
Paul Smith's College
Whiteface/Lake Placid
About Adworkshop

Adworkshop is an employee-owned integrated marketing agency providing strategic consulting and creative marketing solutions that help clients solve their evolving business challenges. Rooted in destination marketing from the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, Adworkshop has grown into an agency of 30+ talented employees whose expertise across marketing disciplines leads to innovative strategies and measurable results for destination marketing organizations, tourism businesses, active outdoor companies, educational institutions, health care companies, economic development agencies, and other businesses.

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