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Understanding colour profiles

When designing for both web and print, it is important to know the difference between RGB and CMYK colour profiles in order to achieve the desired colour for each medium.

An RGB colour profile is used to convey colour digitally, such as on your computer monitor. R represents the colour red, G represents the colour green, and B represents the colour blue. With an RGB colour profile red, green, and blue lights are added to a black monitor to make the colour that you see displayed. The more colour lights added the more colour is subtracted and the whiter the display becomes, which is why the RGB colour spectrum is referred to as subtractive colour. When designing graphics or formatting files for the web, an RGB colour profile should be used.

A CMYK colour profile is used to replicate full colour when printing. C represents the colour cyan, M represents the colour magenta, Y represents the colour yellow, and K represents the colour black. CMYK is an additive colour system, meaning the more ink you add to a white surface, such as paper, the darker the area becomes. This profile is also referred to as process colour or four colour. When designing files for print, a CMYK colour profile should be used.

With both RGB and CMYK profiles, the colour lights and inks mix together to create a full colour image.

A spot colour is a mixture of CMYK inks that are mixed before adding it to the offset press. By mixing the ink before hand, it ensures a perfect colour match every time.

Why does this matter?

Since the two colour systems work differently, one additive and one subtractive, it is best to assign the proper colour profile based on the file’s intended use so that the final colour represented is what was desired.

At Mountain View Printing & Graphics, if we receive a file for printing that is assigned a RGB colour profile we must convert it to CMYK. Sometimes the conversion can alter the colour, having an impact on the final output.

Another factor to keep in mind is that when viewing images or files for print on a computer monitor it is not a true representation of how the colour will look when printed, since the monitor displays in RGB and the final print will be in CMYK. For a true representation of the final printed colour, it is best to refer to a colour swatch book and assign a spot colour whenever possible.


Still have questions about colour profiles? Contact Us. We're always happy to help.

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