Why does CMYK matter with print files?

Web Ninja Blog Randy

Many of our customers are self made graphic designers or new in the printing field. Our goal is to educate our customers so that the what they see on their monitor is most likely what they will see when they receive their fully printed material. The #1 mistake that see with files submitted or emailed is the file is in RGB format.

Let’s back up for just one moment.



What is RGB? RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue. These are the colors of “light”. These colors are used in monitors and tv’s to create millions of colors.

What is CMYK? CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. K stands for a black in this case. The black in CMYK is a muted black. These colors are the colors of “darkness”. Now, I know what you’re saying… Darkness? Light? What is this Star Wars? I know it sounds cheesy but it’s the reality. You can’t shoot light through a piece of paper to replicate colors like a TV does. The colors of darkness are standard colors that help replicate a large gamut of colors on objects that don’t have a light source.

So back to why is CMYK important? Well, there are a ton more colors in the RGB spectrum then the CMYK spectrum. Ever have the following issues?

  • It looks blue on screen but it prints purple or grey?
  • The bright green looks just like a plain green.
  • All bright colors on screen look dull.
  • The black isn’t a deep black.

Those are just some of the issues. It’s a good idea to START your file in CMYK “mode”. In Photoshop you can choose the “mode” when you create a new file or if you go to Image > Mode > CMYK you can also change the color mode. IF you start the file CMYK mode, then you will see the file with the colors converted and there won’t be any suprises on product pick up. Often designers who are use to designing RGB will change to CMYK at the end are a tad startled that the design doesn’t have the “pop factor” that it did before the conversion.

If you do convert to CMYK in the end of a layout, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, in many cases it might not have any visual difference or the changes that it does make may not matter.

So… if you want your design to look perfect. Make sure your file is in CMYK format.

Next post… Why did my blue print file turn purple or why did it turn grey when printed?