When you think about color, you might remember Roy G. Biv from when you were in school. (Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). This was a nifty acronym that represented Isaac Newton’s discovery that color is intrinsic to light. While his reasons of choosing those seven specific colors remain a mystery, his legacy lives on with color modes.

RGB – Additive Color. Used in electronic displays like computer monitors, TV’s, digital camera’s, etc. It provides a wider color gamut than CMYK. It’s comprised of the colors red, green, and blue. Since RGB is emitted light, when you combine (add) all 3 colors together, the result is pure white. If you’re designing a website or anything for a digital screen, RGB is the better option, as it gives you a wider and more vivid color selection.

CMYK– Subtractive color. Used in printed products. Originated from printing processes that required individual plates for each color laid down separately. It’s comprised of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The “K” is black, the letter “K” stands for “Key” which included “key details” in the artwork like shadows. If you combined cyan, magenta, and yellow—the result would be a very dark brown. Black is added to ensure a true black is available. Because it’s printed, the material absorbs (subtracts) wavelengths of the light being reflected. You should use CMYK when designing print.

For example, CMYK doesn’t accurately represent shades of blue and instead interprets them as more of a purple. This is problematic with digital printing if your brand colors are a bright, vivid blue. A possible solution for this would be screen printing or offset printing, which allow any color to be printed as a “spot color”. This means blue ink would be used, instead of trying to approximate the blue by using cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks. These processes are more expensive, because a special screen or plate has to be created for each color.


By setting up your color mode correctly before you send your files to the printer, you can spot any issues when converting RGB to CMYK, and adjust your expectations accordingly or work out a solution with your print vendor. It’s important to choose a print vendor that knows color; TKO Graphix specializes in all kinds of printing methods and offers many services to ensure your color is spot on.

TKO Tech Talk is a column written by Eric Benge, who has over 10 years experience in the design and print industries. Technology changes rapidly, the advice or information included in these articles is considered accurate and helpful as of the date they are posted online. If you have any questions, technology related or otherwise, please contact us.