RGB and CMYK: What is the Difference Between The Two?

October 29, 2020 | 0 min read


We come across a lot of people who are usually confused between working in RGB and working in CMYK. So, to make it more clear to all, we have initiated this article to help understand the difference between the two work systems, which is RGB vs CMYK.

Working in RGB vs CMYK

Working in RGB vs CMYK

Working in CMYK:

Working in CMYK is more like painting on a piece of paper and the whole exploration with the same. As you may start working on a white sheet. When you try adding any color to the sheet it eventually turns the paper darker. 

Let’s understand the system through the circles in the color Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow.

  • We start by the combination of the color Cyan and Magenta. When we combine them we get the color blue.
  • Next, we combine Cyan with Yellow color. When we mix them the color Green is produced. 
  • Let us now try with the colors Yellow and Magenta. As we combine the two you may notice that the color changes to red.
  • Let’s experiment a little more. Try to combine all three colors: Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. Once mixed, the color black is produced. 
  • Perhaps, maybe not the deep black here, but, dark brown instead. 
  • This is why commercial printing adds a fourth color, which is the Black color. This helps make the shadow more evident and richer. Now, that’s how we arrive at CMYK, the world’s first dyslexic acronym. 

However, we are often asked as to what the letter ‘K’ stands for. There is consensus that tells us that the letter ‘K’ stands for ‘Key’.

CMYK, the world’s first dyslexic

Working in RGB 

Working in RGB is exactly the opposite. Here, instead of starting with a white sheet, one starts with a black sheet. Unlike the CMYK, when you add color to the black sheet it gets darker and not brighter. 

  • Let’s again understand through the circles that are in Red, Green, and Blue color.
  • If one combines the Red color and Green color it results in a brighter still and the color Yellow is produced.
  • Now, let us add the colors Blue and Green. This combination results in a Cyan color.
  • Next, we mix the colors Blue and Red. Once combined, the color magenta is formed.
  • Now, let’s take the experiment a little further and try combing the colors: Red, Green, and Blue. Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! You get pure white color. 

It’s worth noting here that RGB and CMYK are the exact opposite. The overlapping inside the CMY circles makes blue, red, and green color, and the combinations inside the RGB circles form the color yellow, cyan, and magenta.

The RGB circles form the color yellow, cyan, and magenta.

In Print: : RGB vs CMYK

When you create artwork for print, it is good to note that the RGB color gamut is much wider compared to that of the CMYK gamut. That means one creates brighter and more saturated colors in RGB that can never be printed in CMYK.

 CMYK used in printer

In comparison: RGB vs CMYK


If working in RGB, you can choose to check how the image would look when it’s converted to CMYK. This can be done by simply choosing View and Proof Colors, or, use the shortcut; command Y (Mac)/Ctrl Y (Windows).

You can now see how the saturated colors look. You make observe they are much duller once converted to CMYK. So, if you are working for print, you’d need to adjust the colors to avoid disappointments.

RGB and CYMK mode in photoshop

Final Thoughts-

The long talked comparison of the RGB vs CMYK is observed in a rather distinct way as to the similarities. Where CYMK works by color thrown at the white sheet to bring about a darker color as to the RGB that starts with a black sheet and forms brighter colors when added.

FAQs: The Difference Between RGB and CMY

1) What is CMYK used for?

CMYK color model is a subtractive color model used in printing and to describe the printing process itself. It refers to the four ink plates used in color printing: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black).

2) What does television use? RGB or CMYK?

RGB (Red, Green, Blue) is a color space used by electronic displays such as monitors, TVs, and mobile devices. On the other hand, CMYK is referred to as colored ink and used in any printed material

3) Why is K Black in CMYK?

The letter K in CMYK stands for ‘Key,’ as in the ‘Key Color’ or the Plate. Yes, black ink is used as the Key.

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