There is a big difference between the colors on your screen and the printed colors on paper. RGB (what you see on your screen) has more than 16 million colors and CMYK (print) has only 16,000. The possibilities on paper are therefore considerably more limited than on your screen. Specifically, bright and vibrant colors that look beautiful on your screen can have a duller appearance when converted to CMYK and printed on paper.

To ensure that your campaign meets your expectations, we strongly recommend that you always send yourself a test card before finalizing your order.

There is a fundamental distinction between RGB (used for screens) and CMYK (used for printing): a screen emits its own light, while paper merely reflects ambient light. In addition, RGB consists of three colors and CMYK consists of four colors.

In RGB, colors are generated by the addition of various light components (additive), while in printing, colors are achieved through the absorption or subtraction of light (subtractive). This difference in color reproduction processes explains the differences between colors on screen and printed colors.

The images below show the difference between additive and subtractive color build-up. It is clear that the color range of RGB is much larger than the color range of CMYK, especially the brighter colors cannot be achieved with CMYK.

RGB (red, green, blue)

RGB, short for Red, Green, and Blue, represents a light-based additive color mode characterized by the emission of vivid red, green, and blue light. These primary colors are combined in different ratios to generate a spectrum of colors, often referred to as a gamma. White results from the full intensity of all three colors combined, while black is achieved by turning off the pixels entirely.

RGB is widely embraced as the standard for digital media across a spectrum of devices, including monitors, TVs, cameras, smartphones, scanners, and various screens.

CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black)

CMYK, which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black, operates as a pigment-based subtractive color mode. In this mode, these four colors are subtracted or absorbed from natural white light using pigments or inks. When you mix cyan, magenta, and yellow pigments, they combine to create black. Pure black intensifies shades, making them darker and more vibrant, while unprinted areas of paper represent white. CMYK is typically employed in four-color process printing.

In contrast, RGB can produce over 16 million distinct colors. CMYK, on the other hand, has a more limited color range, which means it cannot reproduce colors with the same level of vibrancy. The ink colors in CMYK tend to appear less vibrant compared to the RGB colors on your screen. Additionally, every screen has its unique characteristics and color reproduction capabilities.

Therefore, it is highly advisable to ALWAYS create one or more proofs first to thoroughly assess colors (as well as other aspects) before initiating a campaign.

Apple has a useful tool to check RGB > CMYK: