Have you ever heard someone mention the terms CMYK or RGB and thought they were referring to launch codes? Well, you’re almost right. These terms refer to the two primary forms of reproducing color. Here is a simple explanation meant to give you a general idea of what they mean and how they’re used.

RGB: Three colors of light.

RGB is the color model used to display images on electronic devises such as phones, computers, and televisions. To form a color with RGB, three colored light beams (one red, one green, and one blue) are superimposed.

All images displayed on a website are RGB. These images are being displayed on an electronic device that is using red, green, and blue lights to generate the image.

Photos being uploaded to a website for photo printing must be RGB. The printer is using light sensitive paper to produce the final photograph. Photos taken from a digital device are already RGB and ready to be printed as a photograph.

In order to change an image from RGB to CMYK, you must open the image in a photo editing program and change the color mode from RGB to CMYK. Then you can resave the image and upload to your printer.

CMYK: Four colors of ink.

CMYK is the color mode used for printing an image on an ink jet, laser, digital, or offset printer.  The C is for Cyan (teal), M is for Magenta, Y is for Yellow, and K is for Black. These four ink colors are used to produce all colors. The information in the image file tells the printer how much of each ink color to lay down on the paper to create the colors in the image. Most brochures, magazines, mailers, business cards, etc. are printed using CMYK inks on a printer.

It is impossible for the CMYK ink colors to produce colors on paper as vibrant as RGB colors appear on an electronic device. RGB has the unfair advantage because it is using actual light bulbs to create color and CMYK is basically using paint.

An image downloaded from the internet is RGB. If you want to use it on your business card or brochure, then the image will need to be converted to CMYK in order to print accurately. Printing an RGB image on a CMYK printer will produce unpredictable results. And uploading a CMYK image to an online photo printer will produce a dull image. Most online photo printers will give you an error message if you attempt to upload an image that is CMYK.
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