CMYK & RGB: What’s the Difference?

Here we are again with another round of ‘What’s the Difference?’ in the world of digital design! In this blog we’ll cover the two types of color modes and their comparisons. To many digital designers, these terms are well-known but not as much spoken about. For all we know at the moment, CMYK and RGB deal with colors and how these colors are seen in certain situations. But what about them? Why are they so important in designing graphics? And what are they specialized for? With these questions set in stone, we’ll begin with the research on these two important color modes.


Photo by Dario Seretin on Unsplash

For starters, the color mode CMYK is an a abbreviation for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and BlacK. These are the colors used to print graphics and images. The ink is used via subtractive mixing to turn a blank white page into a page with various particular colors. As stated before, the CMYK color mode is used for graphics and images that will be physically printed, so this color mode is best used with business cards, flyers, t-shirts, restaurant menus, etc. When preparing a digital graphic for printing, most file formats are compatible for CMYK, but some files are most suited for printing than others. The most compatible file formats for CMYK are PDFs, AI (Adobe Illustrator, if you have access to it), and EPS (a good file format for vector programs besides Illustrator).


Photo by Florian Olivo on Unsplash

Next up is RGB, an abbreviation for the colors Red, Green, and Blue. These three colors are used via additive mixing to turn a black screen into a screen full of colors varying in intensity. Such freedom with the colors can allow the designer to adjust how shaded, vibrant, and saturated the colors are projected. When I say ‘screen’ I’m referring to digital screens such as: computers, smartphones, televisions, etc. The RGB color modes allows graphics to be seen on such screens like icons, online ads, images, videos, and more. Just like CMYK, RGB has file formats that they can work best with. These formats are JPEGs, GIFs, PNGs, and PSD (for Adobe Photoshop).

With this new found information, I believe he have a lot to thank these color modes for (or at least the engineers who created them). These modes are not only responsible for the many physical things we see around, but for the seemingly endless digital graphics we encounter each day. Hopefully this post clears up the confusion for these commonly used terms, and helps you determine when and how to use CMYK and RGB. If you were unsatisfied with the brief explanation, feel free to use the website I used as research for the color modes. Enjoy!