The Difference Between RGB and CMYK, Explained

Anyone who has ever opened Photoshop has been met with the question of using RBG or CMYK at some point. These might seem like arbitrary options at first, but each represents a different approach to creating—and displaying—color. The distinction is explained in a new video from Express Cards


RGB stands for Red, Green, Blue, because those are the three colors it uses to create every other color in the RGB palette. Colors are added together in varying amounts to produce new ones. (Red + green = yellow, for instance.) The display you’re reading these words on is almost certainly using RGB. When red, green, and blue are turned up all the way, you get white.

CMYK is a little more complicated. Unlike RGB which combines colors, CMYK is subtractive, meaning white is the absence of any color. Even the acronym, which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key, is more confusing. “What the hell color is key?” you might be asking. Well, key is black, but its name points to CMYK’s intended use: printed media. In old printing presses, metal plates got coated in colored inks, and the key plate, which usually had the darkest ink on it, is what provided all the detail and contrast to the image.

In a nutshell, the difference is that RGB is additive and displays better on a screen; CMYK is subtractive and is intended for a printed page. May your images forever be color-accurate.


SPLOID is delicious brain candy. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Senior reporter. Tech + labor /// Keybase: Securedrop: http://gmg7jl25ony5g7ws.onion/


and ohmygod do you get this lesson in spades when you try to print something bright turquoise. I have the same header, handled by different designers and printers that all were given the same instructions for colour that have produced drastically different colours. I learned that you cannot trust the graphic designers or people who work in printing centres have a clue about the differences between pantone, cmyk, and rgb.