RGB, CMYK, and Pantone Colours Explained


RGB stands for “Red, Green, Blue”, and is the primary colours of light. Whenever you’re looking at an image on a screen (computer, smartphone, television, etc) you are viewing it in RGB.

When submitting artwork for print, it is okay to provide RGB images, as they will be converted to CMYK (see below) when printed. Please note however that the colours may shift between what you see on screen and was appears on paper.

The primary RGB colour wheel.

The red, green and blue primary light colours, combine to create white.

CMYK “Process” Colours:

CMYK stands for “Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black (or ‘Key’)”, and is the standard used on all offset and digital colour printers. Graphics are created by printing each colour over top of each other to create a composite colour image.

CMYK is generally used when dealing with full-colour images like photographs and colour layouts.

An image of a monarch butterfly, shown as CMYK separations, as well as a composite image.

The separate cyan, magenta, yellow and black colour plates (top) are combined to create a composite image.

Pantone “Spot” Colours:

Instead of combining colours via CMYK to create a composite image, a “spot” colour is a solid ink colour that is pre-mixed before printing. The press operator will match the colour to the Pantone Matching System, to ensure colour accuracy.

Pantone is an international standard, and this ensure that ANY printer using Pantone’s system can accurately recreate the colour required. Spot colours are generally used for things like logos and branding; solid colours that require consistency and accuracy. Spot colours can also be used in conjunction with CMYK colours when combining full colour images with branding/logo colours on a single layout.

Digital presses are unable to print pre-mixed spot colours, however most spots can be recreated almost exactly using CMYK.

Ink is being mixed to match a Pantone colour swatch.

The Pantone Matching System is being used to pre-mix the exact colour needed for an offset print job.

Colour Printing with directworx:

We utilizes digital press technology in-house, and we’ve also partnered with local offset printers, to offer a wide range of colour print technologies. Let us know if you have any questions; we’d be happy to meet with you and discuss the best approach for your next colour job.

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