CMYK vs RGB: Which one is best for printing in Illustrator 2023

What is the difference between CMYK vs RGB for printing? Have you ever tried to print a document or post it on a digital screen and notice the colors do not quite come out as you expect?

One of the most common characteristics you will notice is dull images when printed or washed out screen images. Setting the wrong color modes either CMYK or RGB may be the main problem causing this.

What is CMYK

CMYK initials represent Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key or Black. Key/Black represents a situation where all colors Cyan, Magenta and Yellow align or mix to form black color.

Presence of all color pigments results in black color while absence of all colors CYMK, results to white.

This color mode is commonly used in the printing industry. 4 color pigments mix to create digital print images. All colors can be achieved by mixing certain percentages of the colors. 

If you have artwork in RGB, your printing company will convert it to CMYK before proceeding to print.

What is RGB

RGB color mode is used to represent colors and images digitally on a screen. It is made of Red, Green and Blue colors. Where all colors converge that is 100% Red, 100% Green and 100% Blue, you will get white color. Absence of all colors will display black.

All colors at 100% are denoted as 255 R, 255 G and 255 B. Screens, smartphones, laptops and monitors use this method to display color and images.

What is the difference between CMYK vs RGB for printing?

CMYK vs RGB for printing

By now, you have a basic understanding between the 2 color modes. Here are some more differences between the 2. RGB color mode takes an additive approach to color. This means that adding all colors results to white or absence of all colors is black. 

Alternatively, CMYK takes an opposite approach, that is subtractive. This means that the absence of all colors is white while presence of all colors is black.

RGB color mode is used to display images and colors on screens. CMYK is used to produce documents intended for printing.

CMYK is measured in percentages ranging from 0% to 100%. For example you can have C 50%, M 30%, Y 20% and K 10%. This will produce a certain color. If you increase K to 40%, the color will be darker.

You can achieve 10 million colors using CMYK color mode.

C 50%, M 30%, Y 20% and K 10%

C 50%, M 30%, Y 20% and K 40%

RGB is measured using color values from 0 to 256. You can get a total of 16 million color variations. For example R 100, G 50, B 20 will provide a certain color.

CMYK vs RGB Which is best for digital printing?

For designs intended to display on screens, then RGB is the best option. For printing, then we recommend you use CMYK color modes.

If you use CMYK, the printed file will look as per your CMYK color values and color adjustments will provide similar results on print.

If you create your design as RGB but need to print, then you will need to convert to CMYK. Your image will lose its overall vibrancy when you do this.

How to change Color mode Illustrator

If you want to check what color mode your artwork is in, open the file in Illustrator.

  1. Go to File>Open and choose your file.
  2. For Illustrator, select the image then go to File>Document Color Mode. 
  3. One of the 2 either CMYK or RGB will be checked.
  4. To change the color mode, Go to Edit>Edit colors>Convert to CMYK/RGB.

How to change Color mode Photoshop

To check and change color modes in Photoshop,

  1. Go to File>Open and choose your file.
  2. Select the layer formed and go to Image>Mode
  3. If RGB is checked, then your image is in RGB
  4. To change click on CMYK.
  5. That is it.
CMYK vs RGB
image credits expertphotography

If you have any questions, just contact us or comment on this post. Alternatively, visit the sidebar on this article for a link to a full Adobe Illustrator Course that will help you learn all this and more.

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denis maina kamau

Written by: Denis Maina

I am an experienced and skilled graphic designer with a strong focus on Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. He specializes in creating a wide range of design materials, such as digital art, business cards, stationery, logos, flyers, posters, banner ads, brochures, PSD templates, and other graphics.

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