Simple explanation of RGB and CMYK color modes

Simple explanation of RGB and CMYK color modes

RGB and CMYK has been a topic of confusion among many photographers and graphic designers. RGB and CMYK are very important part of color theory and color management. A clear knowledge of both can tremendously help understand onscreen color and offset printing. Whenever one is dealing with web, RGB should be used, and the printed material is suggested to be in CMYK. Very few designers and customers understand why this standard is followed in designing and printing. I have already discussed about the color modes : Rgb and Cmyk modes in photoshop in my earlier post ,in this post i will be writing in depth about RGB and CMYK.


 RGB is an additive color mode which is made up of three primary colors, RED, GREEN and BLUE.It is said to be additive because with these primary color’s combination(Red+Green+Blue) , one can obtain white light as shown in the image below.


Additive color mixing begins with black and end with white and  the more color  we add, the brighter everything gets.RGB is based upon onscreen color used for web, TV screen , monitors  and anyother digital screen.

RGB values are expressed in number ranging from 0 to 255.With the combination of different value, we can create 16,777,216 different possible color with RGB so it highly used where wide range of color is needed.

Figure clearly illustrate the color combination we get when mixed  RGB overlap









 CMYK is a subtractive color mode made up three primary pigment color Cyan, Yellow and Magenta  .It is said subtractive because it subtract color from piece of paper by adding more and more ink. Which mean when you add Cyan + magenta + yellow we get black as shown in the image below. Black is the absence of light there fore the absence of the color. So it subtract the colors.

subtractive-systemsubtractive color mixing begins with white  and end with black .The more ink you add, the darker everything gets.CMYK  are used in offset printing .CMYK values are expressed in percentage. One thing need to understand here is that K stands for black. The combination of Cyan,yellow and magenta gives something which it not quite black.In offset printing  it is almost impossible to create solid black with these color so to solve this problem the key color is made which is solid black.Offest printing is based on CMYK model.

Figure clearly illustrate the color combination we get when mixed  CMYK overlap










It is very beneficial to have understanding about color mode.CMYK and RGB are equally have important roles for managing color in  offset printing and onscreen industry respectively at their own place.Inspite that CMYK cannot produce all the color range of RGB,it stands as a best model available for offset printing. One of the biggest challenge of printing industry is to maintain the color matching. Proper conversion should be done so the print would look same as what appears on the monitor.

Previous Color modes: RGB and CMYK in photoshop
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About author

Anup Ghimire
Anup Ghimire 60 posts

Anup ghimire is a self learned Photographer/Designer and recently graduated in multimedia technologies from London metropolitan university.Traveling is something he loves the most after photography. You can see some of his photos at his facebook photography page

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