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RGB vs. CMYK – What’s the Difference? Color Modes, Explained

For brands looking to project a professional image and gain a crucial edge in today’s competitive marketplace, a robust print marketing strategy built on high-impact visual collateral can be a wise investment.

To get maximum mileage out of print marketing, a keen designer’s eye is a must. But stellar design is just the beginning – to steer clear of headaches and ensure optimal results, marketing pros must also have a confident grip on the technical “nuts and bolts” that can trip up those with less experience or know-how.

For instance, have you ever printed an image from a digital file, but the colors on the print just seem a bit off? Ever wonder why this is? It’s because there are different color modes for digital and print applications – and understanding the difference is of critical importance. Let’s take a closer look…

• RGB is the color mode used in digital imaging, and it’s built around the three primary colors of light that make up every pixel on a digital display – red, green, and blue. From handheld devices to huge public displays, if it’s designed for the screen, it uses the RGB color mode. RGB is an additive color mode, meaning black is the baseline, and then the three primary colors are added in different values to create a full, vibrant range of color. If all three are at maximum intensity, the result is pure white.

• CMYK is the color mode used for print materials. Its primary colors are cyan, magenta, yellow, and black – the four colors used in the print process. CMYK is a subtractive color mode; pure white is the baseline, and each layer of ink subtracts brightness to create the preferred color. In theory, combining cyan, magenta, and yellow at maximum value should yield pure black, but in practice, the result is a dark, muddy gray – so, printers use black ink in addition to the three primary colors.

But, why do onscreen colors sometimes look different when they’re printed? It has to do with the range of color that’s possible within each color mode.

In the RGB color mode, each of the three primary colors has a value between 0 and 255, but in CMYK, each color’s value only ranges from 0 to 100. This means that RGB can yield a significantly wider range of colors, including many that can’t be reproduced in CMYK. That’s why, if you print from a digital file that’s in the RGB color mode, some of the more vibrant and bright colors in the image will instead appear dull or washed out. And that’s why it’s vital to always use the right color mode for the job – RGB for digital imaging, and CMYK for print.

The bottom line? In a crowded marketplace, an investment in print marketing is a great way to set your brand apart – but, you’ve got to have a handle on the nuts and bolts.

Want to learn more about how you can boost your brand’s image with high-impact print marketing in 2022? Contact us at Rosie’s Creative – and let’s get started! Remember, with Rosie’s Creative, your first consultation is always free!

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