Making Sense of Printer-Babble #1
By: Stephen Plumbley
I come from a long-line of designers and illustrators. My father owned a highly successful graphics production house in San Diego for years, and before him, my grandfather was a skilled illustrator and designer. I myself and creeping up on *gasp* 20 years in design. With all of that exposure to design and print, certain terms are second-nature to me — CMYK, Process, PMS, RGB, Traps, Bleeds and a whole host of others that that typical lay-person might only have a glimmer of understanding about.
Like any technically-driven field, print (and design) has its own particular jargon, and that can be tricky to navigate. Hopefully these post helps you make sense of some of this techno-babble, and as a result, grants you a better understanding of what us printing nerds are saying!
CMYK vs. RGB
If you only take one thing from this post, I hope it is this one, singular immutable fact: When it comes to print, CMYK=GOOD, RGB=BAD.
RGB is a color space (a way to identify and create colors) that relates to screens and monitors. Your computer moitor uses LCDs or LEDS that are Red, Green and Blue to create the colors, images and texts that you see on screen. CYMK is a color space that relates to how full-color images are printed on paper. CMYK, named for the inks that are mixed (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) in varying percentages, and is also known colloquially, because there are four inks, as “4-Color Process,” or just “Process” in the print world.
So what’s the issue, you might ask? Well, when you create a file as RGB, and then print it as CMYK, the colors of the image will actually shift, which can lead to unexpected results. Sometimes it might not be that big of a deal, and sometimes it could be the difference between it being your corporate colors, and someone else’s! The graphic included here shows the same colors, as rendered in each color space. You can see how different they are!
ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS design in CMYK if it’s going to be printed. If you’re not sure how the final piece will be used, design in CMYK. The conversion from to CMYK to RGB always works better than the other way around.
Hopefully this has helped you understand the differences between RGB and CMYK. We’ll be periodically posting blogs about different terms and what they mean. Have a particular term or concept you’d like us to cover? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.