May 14, 2024

In the field of graphic design, designers often compare RGB vs CMYK, which are used in graphic designs, along with their differences in meaning and functions.

Professional designers have been familiar with the terms RGB and CMYK, while amateur designers may find them unfamiliar. Therefore, you need to read through the following explanations to get to know their differences.


Detail Descriptions about RGB

Before further discussions, it is important to know what ‘additive’ and ‘subtractive’ mean in the field of graphic designs. Additive is the moment when you add and mix colors to result in a white color. Subtractive presents only white color without any other colors. Additionally, digital displays apply an additive design, yet printed displays apply a subtractive design.

RGB vs CMYK vary in colors. RGB is an additive design, while CMYK is a subtractive design. The following explanations, which you need to get through, focus on RGB.


RGB stands for Red, Green, Blue which we often find on either TV or computer screens. The color mixtures result in whitish bright displays to name it as RGB. It is no wonder that the lights form the additive design because the more lights we add, the brighter the design looks. This mode relates to how humans’ sight works. 

Unfortunately, few people realize that there are three types of cone cells inside the eyes, which are red, green and blue light waves. Then, the brain absorbs the lights from the three types of receptors which then will be transferred into millions of visible colors. The use of RGB vs CMYK was first conducted at different times.

James Clerk Maxwell, a physics, mathematics expert, was the first person to use this mode in 1861 while he was trying to create a colored photo by taking the same subject from three photos with red, green and blue filters. Next, white light seems to go through the three photos projecting a colored picture.

Functions and Applications

RGB vs CMYK vary in functions. RGB is suitably applicable to digital needs, such as online advertisements, videos, photos, infographics, applications, websites, social media contents, etc.

Additionally, Youtube and UI designs require applying this mode  due to the fact that accuracy between display types in digital formats will differ from each other. The amount of the color mode can reach up to 16.777.216.

Unfortunately, humans’ eyes can approximately detect 7 millions color types because a lot of colors seem similar and some of them are rarely used.

Color Mixing Fundamentals

The color mixing fundamentals are different between RGB vs CMYK. The basic color of the RGB is black which can change by adding red, green and blue colors producing new features.

Proper Document Formats

The proper document formats in this method are JPG, PSD, PNG, and GIF. In addition, JPEG is possible to use only if you would like the best picture in a medium size. Furthermore, PSD is the best RGB document standard when you use Adobe Photoshop to do the editing process. PNG produces the best quality result along with its transparency feature, while GIF is a proper format for a moving digital picture.


Further Descriptions about CMYK for a Better Understanding to RGB vs CMYK

Let us now discuss CMYK, after previous RGB discussions, for a better comprehension of the differences between RGB vs CMYK.


CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, key or black. The mixture of these colors will result in black which seems to be dark brownish mud instead of strong black. For that reason, key or black has become an additional complement. We have previously explained that CMYK is in the subtractive category which is a standard format of printed media.

From this point, it is noticeable that the difference between RGB vs CMYK is in their media application which means RGB is applicable to digital media, while CMYK is suitable for printed media.

This factor, however, triggers problems with the accurate color reproductions considering that digital media displays can produce more colors than the printed media ones. CMYK was first utilized in commercial printing by Eagle Printing Ink Company in 1906.

Nevertheless, such color variants did not become the four-color-printing standard until the mid 1950s. In addition to the letter ‘K’ in CMYK, as another interesting fact, it can also be either brown, blue, or black, according to Tech Target.

Color Mixing Fundamentals

The difference of color mixing fundamentals between RGB vs CMYK is that RGB starts with black, while CMYK starts with white, the reverse color, and continues with cyan, magenta, yellow, and complement key to block these basic colors.

Upon completing such a process, various colors are formed to fade lights from the original surface, which is called the subtractive. This mode is based on RYB (red, yellow, and blue).

The mixture of these three colors results in a new variant. In CMYK mode, cyan is a process of blue; magenta is of red and yellow, the last color. Furthermore, thousands of new colors will form when key or black is added.

Functions and Applications

It is important to understand the functions and applications of RGB vs CMYK to be able to use them properly.

CMYK is applicable to printed media, as mentioned earlier, such as banners, posters, brochures, stikers, name cards, package designs, restaurants’ menu, printed advertisement, and more. It is applicable to both commercial printings and simply colored printers.

To have the best display result similar to the one on the screen, it is better to use the CMYK mode in the making process of a printed media because printed media usually looks different from its digital format.

The RGB digital file will automatically be converted by printer into CMYK format. Such an automatic conversion, however, will result in a dimmer color than the one on the screen.

Proper Document Format

CMYK has its own proper document formats, such as PDF, the fine quality format which is easy for everyone to open, AI, the best CMYK document standard if it is applied alongside the Adobe Illustrator, and EPS, an AI alternative way for another vector illustration application.


Pay special attention to their differences to gain the best result. First of all, set up your goal(s) about what you are making a design for. Then, you may choose the available options between RGB vs CMYK.

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