CMYK vs. RGB: What’s the Difference and Does it Matter?

CMYK and RGB: If you are starting a new web or print design, you’ve probably heard those acronyms tossed around. It turns out that they are really important to your design project, because they render differently depending on how they are used.

So even if you hire a professional to do the work for you, it’s a good idea to know what they mean. Here are the basics:


CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

  • C = Cyan
  • M = Magenta
  • Y = Yellow
  • K = Black

Essentially, all the colors are combined by a printing machine to creating varying shades. All colors start as blank white and as layers of ink are added, the brightness decreases to the color you want. Mix all the colors together and you end up with pure black. CMYK offers fewer color options and variations than RGB, but it already contains the color white so it is more ideal for printed projects.


When should you use CMYK?

Use CMYK any time you plan to print something, rather than view it on a screen. Projects include: product packaging, signage, stickers, business cards, flyers, brochures, stationary, billboards, posters, handouts and vehicle wraps. You will even use it for branded merchandise and promotional items, such as pens, buttons, clothing and so on.



RGB stands for the primary colors of red, green, and blue.

  • R = Red
  • G = Green
  • B = Blue

For RGB, a light source within an electronic device mixes the three colors together to produce any color you need, while also lowering or increasing the color’s intensity. Colors begin as black, and as colors are layered on top of one another, they produce a variety of colors. Light is then added to brighten the colors. If red, green and blue light is mixed together at equal intensity, it creates pure white. Designers can customize colors by adding vibrancy, saturation and shading.


When should you use RGB?

Opt for RGB if your project will be viewed on any device or screen (phones, computers, TVs or big screens). Projects include: web and application design, call to action buttons, icons, online logos and ads, social media visuals, infographics, video, and profile backgrounds and pictures.

How Can We Help?

That’s the gist of it. If you have any other design questions — or you just aren’t ready to tackle this whole design thing on your own, schedule a discovery call with us today. We offer a full range of print and web design services.