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What is the difference between RGB and CMYK Color environments? What are PMS (Spot) colors?

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What is the difference between RGB and CMYK Color environments? What are PMS (Spot) colors?


What is the difference between RGB and CMYK Color environments? What are PMS (Spot) colors?

“CMYK”, “RGB” Each of these acronyms refers to a method of building colors for different environments.


The one that you are perhaps most familiar with (or aware of) is RGB. If you are reading this, you are reading an RGB display via your computer. RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue. The three colors that create every other tone of color that is visible on your screen. There is no black or white ‘color’. Neither is there yellow or purple. They are all combinations of red, green and blue. White is the sum of all three colors while black is the absence of all three colors.

While each monitor is capable of displaying a wide range of colors, there are still inconsistencies between computers. However, these are often noticeable only to professional designers. Take a look at your system settings. Make sure you are displaying thousands or millions of colors rather than the lowest setting of 216. The fact that some computers are defaulted to the lowest setting led to “Websafe” colors.

Websafe colors are referenced by their hexadecimal number. These color’s names are pairs of characters, e.g. FFCC00 and OOCCFF are colors you can specify and expect them to render fairly consistently from one machine to the next.


If you were reading this piece in a printed magazine, you would be reading it in a CMYK color space. CMYK color space is everywhere.

As opposed to RGB which builds color through the addition of light, CMYK adds color through the addition of colors. Because of this, colors reproduced in CMYK sometimes can‘t match colors created in RGB. For example, if you open up Photoshop and create a CMYK image, when you go to your color picker, certain colors built with non-CMYK color will be displayed with an alert, notifying you that the color cannot be re-created with CMYK. Photoshop shows you what the CMYK equivalent will look like.

In four-color process (CMYK) printing, primary colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) are mixed together to produce most of the colors that you see in normal magazines and color books. While there are six-color (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black, Light Cyan and Light Magenta) color spaces, these are less common and are typically used for photo printing.

CYMK is what the vast majority of commercial printers do. Images and artwork targeted for reproduction in a CMYK color space must be properly formulated to print correctly. It is difficult to get an accurate CMYK print from an RGB image.


Spot colors, also known as PMS colors, and officially as Pantone Matching System colors, are specific color formulas that will reproduce accurately in print. Instead of simulating colors by combining primary colors, spot (PMS) colors are pre-mixed with existing and published color formulas. Because of this you are nearly guaranteed that your PMS 186 from one printer will be matched by a PMS 186 from another printer. Better yet, often these PMS colors are pre-mixed by the ink factory, leaving even less to chance. “Spot” colors refer to the actual printing process by which they are applied. It is possible to have spot colors that actually have no color to them at all. Spot varnishes are glossy or dull varnishes applied to specific areas in a printed piece to achieve specific results.


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Views: 7682 Created on: May 24, 2014
Date updated: Feb 08, 2016

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