Here is a nice infographic provided by that helps demystify the RGB vs CMYK question. You probably already know this, but in case you don’t, RBG stands for Red, Blue, Green. CMYK is Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black.

Wait… why K for black. There seems to be some question about this. K could stand for the word ‘Key’ or key plate, but I think it’s more likely meant to avoid confusion with blue. You can read more about in this article about why K means black. In any case, K equals black. Printing is old and printers still use some ancient printing terms even though they don’t mean exactly what they used to.

How to choose RGB vs CMYK?

The bottom line is that when you choose one or another color model you should be guided by the end product:

  • Use RGB for projects that the audience will view only on a screen, like websites, email, and PowerPoint or Keynote presentation.
  • Use CMYK for print, brochures, posters, booklets, etc.

You can remember it like this: RGB is red, green, blue pixels on a device screen and CMYK is cyan, magenta, yellow, and black dots on a physical surface, like paper. Here’s a more technical article if you’d like to learn more.

Is CMYK still necessary?

Of course, all of this is changing with digital printing. The hard and fast CMYK rule for print is not necessarily the case anymore. Ninetof my print files destined for print are PDFs. It’s always best to check with the printer to see if they have a preference. Sometimes the device they print on does a better job with one or the other.

So what should you do?

The printer will be able to tell you what works best for them.Digital printers may be OK with either CMYK or RGB. But if you are not able to check with the printer, like submitting an ad to a magazine, use CMYK. Use RGB for projects that will appear just on the screen. The truth of the matter is that

RGB vs CMYK color modes explained