Essentially, CMYK works best for printed materials such as flyers, brochures and signage, while RGB performs best for anything that goes online, like websites, digital posters, advertising banners or logos.

It really boils down to what your finished product is and how you will display it to customers.

But, before we dig in too far let’s further define CMYK and RGB and talk about some common mistakes you can avoid.

Color is a complicated topic, especially for non-designers. So, if you don’t know the first thing about color, here is the perfect primer to start learning.

CMYK vs. RGB: Which One Is Best for My Project?

When talking about color design, two of the most commonly used color models are CMYK and RGB. The choice between these two depends on the purpose of the design – will your finished product be printed, or will it only appear in digital form?

CMYK is used for printed work, and RGB is for digital work.

Keep in mind that if your design will appear in both print and digital forms you need two versions, one in CMYK and one in RGB. Your commercial printer may have additional file type specifications as well when it comes time to finalize your print pieces.

Related: 4 Must-Have Design Templates Ever Business Must Have


CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.  The 'K' instead of 'B' for black is a hold-over from printing press times, when it was referred to as the 'key' plate.

CMYK is used for traditional print methods  the colors are generated through a subtractive method from white light. Most commercial printers do not use white ink. When the four CMYK ink colors are combined they make black.

In the printing process, CMYK colors are printed on top of each other using different percentages of transparent inks. The mechanism is simple: colors are obtained by printing halftone percentages of tiny dots of color that are so small they can’t be seen with the naked eye.

CMYK vs RGB - What's the Difference | Ironmark, Annapolis Junction, MD

What Is RGB?

RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue. Together, these colors of light make up the entire color palette on digital screens. RGB is the best choice for anything  online, like your website, ad posters or banners, logos, etc.

RGB colors are generated through an additive method, and the three colors combined together make white. RBG is necessary because computers can render color more accurately than paper, and the color tones must be different to reflect this. Using CMYK colors for digital work can produce more muted tones, depending on the specifics of the design.

CMYK vs. RGB: Common Mistakes

One of the biggest (and most common) mistakes made during the design process is creating for print in Photoshop without taking the color mode into consideration.

Forgetting to differentiate the default RGB module in the editing program from the CMYK mode will lead to printing your work on paper using digital settings. The colors will be different from what you intended, and the results won’t be great.

You may also need to color correct your design manually before sending it to a commercial printing company. Adjusting the CMYK settings and touching the hue or saturation values are the last thing you want to do when you have a tight deadline and a client waiting for your work.


If you're a small business owner and you need assistance printing flyers, banners or other branded materials, our professional printing team can help with guidance and tips that will save you time and money.

Based on our 60 years of experience in digital and offset print, signage and large format printing, direct mail, as well as online marketing, we know the color mode to ensure your marketing materials are impactful and get the best results. Contact us today to get your next project off the ground.

Written by Lynne Kingsley

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