The Difference Between RGB and CMYK

Anyone who has ever opened Photoshop has been met with the question of using RGB or CMYK at some point. These might seem like arbitrary options at first, but each represents a different approach to creating—and displaying—colour. The distinction is explained in our short video.

What is RGB?

RGB stands for Red, Green, Blue, because those are the three colors it uses to create every other color in the RGB palette. Colors are added together in varying amounts to produce new ones. (Red + green = yellow, for instance.) The display you’re reading these words on is almost certainly using RGB. When red, green, and blue are turned up all the way, you get white.

What is CMYK?

CMYK is a little more complicated. Unlike RGB which combines colors, CMYK is subtractive, meaning white is the absence of any color. Even the acronym, which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key, is more confusing. “What the hell color is key?” you might be asking. Well, key is black, but its name points to CMYK’s intended use: printed media. In old printing presses, metal plates got coated in colored inks, and the key plate, which usually had the darkest ink on it, is what provided all the detail and contrast to the image.

So why should I use CMYK?

In a nutshell, the difference is that RGB is additive and displays better on a screen; CMYK is subtractive and is intended for a printed page. May your images forever be color-accurate.


[article written by Bryan Menegus]

Please help us share our articles with your friends and others in the industry. :)