RGB, CMYK, Pantone … what does it all mean? It means that there are different color modes for different applications. There are some things you need to know about each one in order to understand the color from another mother.
RGB is an additive color mode. As the three colors (Red, Green and Blue) mix together, the color result is white.
This color mode uses light to create color, therefore it is not intended for printed materials. It is meant for your computer monitor, tablet, phone or TV. RGB mode uses three colors of light to produce an even larger array of colors — many are very vibrant and cannot be accurately reproduced using CMYK (one of the other color modes).
RGB is used in web design and video production, but not print. If RGB were to be used on a printed piece, it would first need to be converted to CMYK … and this is where the trouble begins. The conversion from RGB to CMYK can result in a less-vibrant color than expected. Check out the sample below showing an RGB conversion to CMYK, for print. This is not exactly what you would want to see if you were expecting the one on the left.
CMYK is a subtractive color mode. The CMYK color mode is the mixing of pigments (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) to produce printed materials. One may think this could produce more colors since it blends 4 colors, instead of 3, to make new colors … but that isn’t the case. The ink is applied to paper, and as it applies, it subtracts the brightness of the material being printed on, due to covering it with layers of ink.
One issue that arises often is color matching — the proper conversion of RGB to CMYK colors. It is very difficult, and frustrating, to get a printed piece to match what it looked like on a screen. This issue is not limited to RGB and CMYK, but it also arises when dealing with converting Pantone colors to either CMYK or RGB.
Pantone is a standardized color reproduction system. It’s premixed and ready to go! Think of going to a paint store and picking a color for a room in your house. You can choose a swatch of “Desert Cactus” and, when mixed, you get exactly the color you chose because the formula is predetermined for the color.
Trying to convert Pantone colors to CMYK or RGB can be tricky. There is a conversion book that Pantone offers in order to get the closest conversion for printing in CMYK. However, the majority of Pantone colors are not accurate enough to be reproduced in process printing.
So, to sum it all up, color can be pretty tricky to reproduce consistently across all platforms. If you don’t go into a project knowing the limitations, you could find yourself unpleasantly surprised by the outcome of using a color from another mother.