• The Adventuring Artist

RGB and CYMK. What do they even mean?

If you have done any type of digital art, whether it be illustrations, photography or graphic design you have probably ran into the acronyms RGB and CYMK. If you are uncertain as to what they mean, why they matter and what use they may have then this post is for you.

 

Lets start by breaking down the acronyms.

RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue. CYMK stands for Cyan, Yellow, Magenta and Black (or Key).

 

So great, we now what the letters mean but where does that get us.

 

The most basic thing to know is that these colors are used to make any other color that we need.

In the case of RGB, Red, Green and Blue are mixed together to make the other colors we may need such as yellow, orange, purple, white and black. The case is the same with CYMK only with Cyan, yellow magenta and black instead.

 

So yeah, the basics are pretty similar but there is a big difference, which means knowing how and when to use these different color settings is important.

 

Lets start with RGB. Red Green and Blue allow for the widest range of colors.

 

As you can see here when the colors get mixed you get new ones. Green and red make yellow, green and blue makes a light blue. And when all three colors are mixed together you get white. This is because red, green and blue are Additive colors. This basically means that when you add the different colors together in certain quantities you get new colors, values and hues.

The process for doing this is complicated, but thankfully modern day computers know exactly how much of each color is needed to make the one you are looking for.

 

CYMK does something very different. Instead of using additive colors, it uses Subtractive colors. In this case when you mix all Cyan, yellow, magenta and black together, you get darker colors rather than lighter ones.

 

As you can see above, when you add yellow and magenta together the color grows darker, same with adding cyan and magenta.

The reason that CYMK works the way it does is that as the colors are added together light is absorbed/removed. When cyan, magenta and yellow are added together you get a dark brown color and once black, the 'key' color is added you get a color completely absent of light.

 

So now we understand the difference. RGB is a mixture of additive colors which result in lighter colors, while CYMK uses subtractive colors which results in the absorption of light and darker colors.

 

But why does it matter?

 

Well here's the thing. Most digital design software, such as Photoshop, uses RGB as its default color mode. That is because generally, the work made on these software is designed to be viewed on a computer screen. That is because computers are made to use RGB. But when you print something, most printers use CYMK. If you have ever replaced the ink in a printer you probably remember that there are usually four different inks, Cyan, yellow, magenta and black.

 

 

So if you use RGB to make you design on the computer it will probably look great. But then you go to print it and all of a sudden the colors look dull and strange. This is because you went from looking at something using additive colors to using subtractive colors.

 

 

As you can see the image on the lift, which is the RGB version looks much cleaner, sharper and more colorful than the one on the right which is in CYMK.

 

Basically, if you are doing something that is going to be viewed exclusively on a screen then RGB is the way to go. If you are printing something then CYMK is the better choice. And it is always a good idea to print 1 of something before you print a hundred. Make sure it looks right before you start printing them all.

 

Rebecca Adams

The Adventuring Artist

Have you issues with RGB and CYMK before? Do you work exclusively with digital or traditional artwork? Or do you do some of both? Let me know in the comments and join me next time for another post!

 

Have a art topic you'd like to learn more about? Let me know and I'll make a post about it.

3 views