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Question: Is RGB or CMYK better for print?

Answer: CMYK is best for print and RGB is best for digital display.

When designing your business cards, or anything else for that matter, there’s a checklist of things you need to consider. We know it can feel overwhelming and complicated so we’ve written a blog post that you can bookmark for basic design principles worth saving. The design, the paper type, the final size it has to be, and even where you will get everything printed.

There’s one more thing you need to consider and that is color modes are a big deal! As a designer not knowing the difference between CMYK and RGB color modes could seriously cost you. If the design is for yourself, you could end up with a very bad result. If the design is for a client, you could potentially end up losing them as a client.

Even if you don't notice it color plays a very important role in our everyday lives. It can affect our mood and even influence our buying decisions. That is why it's very important that you get it right.

Design and colors can make a statement and define your brand. You don't want the artwork you designed to turn out flat or dull looking. At M3 Printing, we have printed millions of jobs and have developed technology to help catch and alert the end user when an RGB to CMYK conversion will occur.

Something to be aware of is that some printers will accept RGB files and automatically convert them to CMYK without you even being aware. Sometimes there is no noticable change, but often colors will shift, which can result in a faded, dull color representation in the final product. It’s best to do it yourself from the start so that you know what you’ll be getting. At M3 Printing, we will never convert a job to CMYK without your approval!

Why does this happen so often?

Many people consider Adobe Photoshop to be the go-to design software and we agree that it is a great program, but most fail to realize that Adobe Photoshop is intended mostly for web design, editing images and various other forms of media that is meant solely for computer use. This is why Photoshop is usually set to RGB mode by default.

RGB – What is it, and when to use it?

The term RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue. Together, these three colors build a spectrum that serve as a reference for all the various colors. Due to the different possible combinations, the RGB color spectrum allows for roughly 16 million different colors! RGB colors are used for screens. It’s used exclusively in digital design because it represents the same colors used in computer monitors, TVs, as well as mobile device screens.

The CMYK color spectrum and printed files

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The CMYK color system is most commonly referred to as a four color process. This is because it uses four main colors, namely Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (Black). Black, in this case, is referred to as key because it is used in the key plate which is responsible for adding the contrast and the detail for the final image. Black is also used because the three other colors cannot produce black themselves when added together.

Unlike the RGB color mode, CMYK is a subtractive color model. CMYK is the recommended color mode for any material that will be printed. This includes business cards, brochures, letterheads, and any other printed collateral. The main characteristic of subtractive colors is that the more colors you mix and add, the darker the results become.

CMYK is used for offset printing, as well as digital printing. The process is as follows: The four single colors are subsequently printed on the substrate, each with a specific ratio. In doing so all possible shades can be achieved.
More than 4 billion color shades can be achieved using a CMYK color spectrum. However, only a small portion of it can be displayed and printed. As a matter of fact, the CMYK color spectrum is much smaller than RGB.

Applying the CMYK color mode to your artwork

Now that we’ve established why it is so important to convert your artwork to CMYK color mode before submitting to the printer, let’s talk about how that is done.

Nowadays, most design software is set to the RGB color system.If your job is intended for print, you need to set the color mode from RGB to CMYK.

Here’s how to do it in Adobe which is the industry standard.

Simply converting RGB into CMYK is not as simple as it seems due to the fact that the same shade may not exist in both color schemes. For this reason, M3 Printing recommends to set up the artwork properly using the CMYK color mode from the beginning. Pictures or other elements in RGB can be converted using a specific editing software. Please note that only a calibrated screen can show potential color shifts accurately.

If you need to design for both print and web for the same project we recommended to start with the CMYK color mode and design all the print assets first. After the print assets are designed then switch to the RGB color mode and design the assets for the web. Doing so will give you a closer match in colors since the RGB color mode has a wider range of colors.


This may seem confusing at first, but it is pretty straight forward and simple once you get the hang of it. As long as you’re aware of the differences and keep them in mind while designing your artwork, you will be fine. Do it right from the start, and your designs will turn out as intended.

Remember, Adobe Photoshop is great but if you intend to use your design for large printed media (e.g. billboards), Adobe Illustrator or a similar vector-based application might be the best option.

Either way, it’s always best to check with your trusted printer before placing an order. We at M3 Printing are always willing to give you advice on what will be best for your job. If you’re still unsure, try out our professional design services. We’re always happy to help!