Imagine you want to have a flyer printed and you’ve finally found a printing company to do this for you. You have sent them your file but then you get a phone call saying that your file doesn’t meet their printing specifications. The printer says your artwork has RGB colours which will turn out darker when printed. He also explains that it’s better for you to submit your files in CMYK colours. Sound familiar? But what are the CMYK colours and what’s the difference with RGB? Don’t worry, we’ll explain it all for you now.

What are CMYK colours?

CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black). By mixing cyan, magenta and yellow, the darkest colour you can make is dark brown. That’s why black (key) is added. All colours in the colour spectrum have these colours as their base colours. By layering the cyan, magenta, yellow and black onto the paper it creates the new colour. This way of printing often reduces the glare on the finished product.

What are PMS (Pantone) colours?

The company Pantone defined over 1100 colours which each have a unique number. By referring to the unique numbers, you’re guaranteed to have the same colour worldwide. This is why Pantone colours are perfect to use for business logos and corporate design. Pantone colours are hard to imitate using CMYK. Pantone colours are made by using 15 base pigments including black and white. By mixing a certain amount of one pigment with a certain amount of one other pigment you will end up with one of the Pantone colours.

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What are RBG colours

RGB stands for red, green and blue. When combining these colours you can end up with very bright colours because it is based on light. For example, think of a TV monitor. When it’s turned off the screen is black but when you add light, the colours become visible.

Why are RGB colours not suitable for printing?

Computer monitors give off coloured light known as RGB as explained above. Computer monitors have a much wider range of colours that they can display. Printing deals with absorption and reflection of wavelengths of which we perceive as colour (CMYK). Printing also has its own limited range of colours. Printing companies will often not accept RGB files and prefer it if all files are provided in CMYK. This will greatly reduce the colour difference between what you see on screen and how the printed product looks. Below you can see an example of how different RGB, CMYK and the printed product look.

I provided the right artwork yet the colours still look different?

Sometimes people receive their product and do notice some slight colour differences. There could be several reasons for this. One is that you could be comparing different types of paper. Different types of paper react differently when printed on, resulting in slightly different colours. If you are comparing the product to something you printed on your own printer, the colours can vary too. Commercial printers print differently to small printers. Another possibility is that your monitor settings are different. The same flyer can look slightly different on another monitor.

Tips to avoid colour differences:

• Always create your artwork in CMYK (or PMS for professional designers).
• Make sure you know the colour codes of your most important colours.
• Do you want exact colours? Order PMS printed products.
• Minimize using blue/purple colours in your artwork