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CMYK vs RGB vs PMS Color Profile

11 May 2014

Color profile is very important before you start designing. Choosing the wrong color profile and you get the wrong result. For starter, RGB is used in digital design. CMYK and PMS usually used for printing projects.

What happen if you choose RGB for printing projects instead of CMYK ? The color won't print right unlike the display on your screen. That is why choosing the color profile is important.

What is RGB?

RGB Color Profile RGB color profile is the color profile exclusively use for digital designs. This is the color you would see on your mobile devices, computers and TV screens.

RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue which are the 3 colors spectrum. RGB is an additive color which means it starts with a blank screen. Adding the variations of Red, Green and Blue light to the blank screen and you get white and lighter tones. Black and darker tones will be produced with less light on a darker screen.

There are no screens that look the same in translating the RGB color. There might be different results on different screens.


What is CMYK ?

CYMK Color Profile Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (black) also known as the four-color process. These are the 4 ink colors that will be mixed to create millions of different hues. As you might notice, black is referred as “key”. The reason is because black is used as the color on the key plate and its job is to determine the contrast and detail of the finished image.

The opposite of RGB, CMYK is a subtractive color space. The media is a white sheet, combine the cyan, magenta and yellow. The result is you get a black color. CMYK is usually less vibrant compared to RGB color profile, because of the light.


What is PMS color ?

PMS color profile PMS stands for Pantone Matching System. This is the universal color matching system used in printing. Base on pre-mixed ink that will produce a more consistent color compared to CMYK or RGB.

The PMS color is still created from the 4 color (CMYK) with a mixture of specific recipe of pigment. However an attempt to recreate the PMS color with CMYK ink might shift the color. The nature of the CMYK ink is transparent, because it is used to be mixed with each other to create other color hues.
The PMS ink nature is opaque because it is intend to be standing alone.


The use of each color profile


If you have a digital project, it is best if you use RGB color profile. Because your project will be seen on digital device and RGB has the most vibrant color for your digital projects. While designing a website, it is a rule of thumb to use RGB mode.


Usually used when you have a full color printing project. CMYK could give you the greatest amount of accuracy in colors when it comes to printing. If you have a project that is created in RGB mode, please don’t forget to change it into CMYK before printing.

It is also best practice to ask for your printer to have a sample of printing result before you go all the way. Or you could bring a color sample that the printer could match to. It won’t be a 100% accurate but you will get close to it. If you want color accuracy, this is where PMS colors steps in.

Because of its limitations, there are some colors that CMYK could not produce. These are: neon colors, orange, grey, metallic colors, navy blue. You might want to use PMS colors to produce these kinds of colors.

RGB Color profile                                                                   CMYK Color profile


This color profile is so special that you usually use it for logos or packaging or designs that you have to have the exact color.
It is recommended to use one or three colors at a time. Otherwise there will be an increase of your printing cost.

A side note to all designers

Please don’t forget to check your color mode when you start designing. It should be very simple, depending on the software that you are using.

If you are using Adobe Illustrator, by default it will lead you to CMYK color profile, which is perfect for your printing project.

For Adobe Photoshop, by default you will be set with RGB mode. But you could change this when you create a new file or change the color mode from RGB to CMYK.

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