Design Work: RGB or CMYK?

Have you ever been really happy with something you’ve designed, only for the colours to look ‘off’ when you print it? Maybe it’s just me, but I used to find it extremely frustrating. And yet, I would guess that in as many as 90% of these cases, the issue is the same. RGB or CMYK?

There are two primary methods of handling colour (known as ‘colour modes’) that you should be aware of when designing. Rather than go into the history and theory behind them, I want to keep this as practical as possible.

RGB stands for “Red, Green, Blue”.
CMYK stands for “Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black” (I know what you’re thinking; just trust me on that).

As a general rule, you should be working with RGB when designing for digital media (slides, e-books, social media, etc.). If your purpose is to print media (magazines, posters, flyers, etc.), then CMYK is the way to go.

Simply set the colour mode from the outset of a new document and you’re good to go. You can also change it midway through if you need to, but this sometimes has some unhelpful consequences, so try to get it right from the start! However, if you do need to make that change, simply click “Image”, “Mode”, and then choose the desired setting.

Image Mode

This is an incredibly small detail, but one that comes up regularly enough to inspire an article! Happy designing!


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