CMYK vs. RGB: Making Sense of a Designer’s Alphabet Soup

August 10, 2021
insight by

CMYK vs. RGB: Making Sense of a Designer’s Alphabet Soup

insight by | August 10, 2021

It’s every non-designer’s worst nightmare: the one day your (extremely talented) graphic designer takes a vacation day, a client contacts you and says they need a design done as soon as possible. While design takes years of experience and hours upon hours of practice, there are certain things even a non-designer can do to help improve these situations – including putting the design in the right color format.

Wait, there are different formats? Why’s that?

We’re glad you asked.


CMYK is the first color mode we’ll discuss. CMYK uses cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black) as its main colors. When you select CMYK as your color mode, your design starts on a blank white slate. As you add color upon color, each layer brings the background closer to pure black, which is made when all colors are mixed together.

Because of this process, CMYK is the proper color mode to use when printing. Projects that require CMYK include business cards, letterheads, menus, t-shirts, billboards, brochures, flyers and even coffee cups.


So, if RGB isn’t used for printing materials, then what is it used for? Easy – RGB is utilized when a design isn’t going to be printed – such as email signatures, digital advertisements, social media graphics and website designs. RGB, which consists of the colors red, green and blue, does the exact opposite of CMYK. Each time colors are layered onto the design it gets closer to pure white.

Let’s say that something is designed entirely in RGB, but then has to be converted to CMYK. The greatest consequence is the quality of the colors. If a piece is designed in RGB and then converted to CMYK, the colors typically appear more muted.

Here at Impact Marketing, we have several graphic design experts on staff to help you avoid the CMYK vs. RGB conundrum. Trust us with your graphic design needs and give us a call at 319-232-4332 or visit us at