Everything You Need to Know About CMYK Color

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

CMYK printing is the standard in the printing industry. CMY covers most light color ranges while K gives it the ability to create darker deep colors. CMYK color has a wider range of colors though is limited compared to the RGB color profile. RGB is used across electronic devices, emitting red, green and blue light to create other colors. Unfortunately, CMYK color and RGB color do not translate well.

What is CMYK?

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.CMYK Definition: CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black and is the color profile used in print.

  • C = Cyan
  • M = Magenta
  • Y = Yellow
  • K = Black

CMYK color is created using a subtractive process. This means that each additional color means more light is removed to create it. When C, M, and Y are combined, you will not achieve pure back, but rather a dark brown color. K is used to completely remove the light from the printed picture, which the eye sees as black.

CMYK black + white

When you have 100% of all colors (C 100%, M 100%, Y 100%, and K 100%) it creates solid black. In contrast, when you have 0% of all colors (C 0%, M 0%, 0%, Y, and 0% K), everything is subtracted and your print will come out completely blank.

It is possible to create black and white colors by just using K, but if you are looking for more vibrant tones or shades of grey, you’ll achieve better results using all four color elements. For example, what is referred to as “rich black” uses C 50%, M 50%, Y 50%, and K 100%.

This concept is true for all colors. If only one of the four possible primary colors is used (for example 60% C, 0% M, 0%, Y, and 0% K) the underlying material tends to shine through.

It is important to use CMYK when creating a design for print to ensure your desired colors translate correctly from the computer to the printed product.

CMYK vs RGB

Have you ever received a print and upon inspection realized some of the colors were not what you were expecting? You’re not crazy! It can happen if you don’t pay attention to which color profile you are using when you design. Your colors look different on screen than in print because printing uses the CMYK color profile while computers display RGB color values.

What is RGB?

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.RGB stands for red, green, and blue. Red, green and blue are the primary colors from which all other colors and shades come.

  • R = Red
  • G = Green
  • B = Blue

 

RGB uses an additive property to create colors by combining the primary colors in varying degrees to create different colors. When all three colors are combined to their full extent, the result is white, as opposed to the black you achieve with CMYK. Combining all three colors to their lowest extent will result in black. RBG color models are most often used in electronic devices as the screens tend to be darker. Combining red, green and blue light produces lighter colors, working in contrast to the dark screens.

What is the Difference between CMYK and RGB

CMYK and RBG color profiles render differently depending on which medium they are being used for. RGB is best used for digital purposes because of the makeup of a digital monitor. A digital monitor is composed of tiny pixels, which are comprised of three light units, red, green and blue. When applying the RGB values to these pixels, you are setting the luminosity for each of the light units in the pixel, determining the color of it. CMYK color is best for printing because the color white is already provided (as the piece of white paper.) The white acts as a base, while values of C, M, and Y are added creating different colors and shades. The more you add, the darker the colors get.

When using CMYK there are fewer color possibilities. CMYK has a numerical range of 4×100 whereas RGB is 3×256. Therefore you can’t reproduce many of the vibrant colors of RGB color space with CMYK.

Below is an example of a photo originally produced in RGB converted to CMYK as displayed on a computer monitor. The colors appear much more vibrant in RGB mode.

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

The Exception to the Rule

Creating designs for print in CMYK is probably the #1 print design rule! That being said, there is an exception to the rule: DTG Printing.

DTG stands for Direct to Garment and is a form of apparel printing. Here at Printi, this is how we print our T-shirts, Tank Tops, and Sweatshirts.

Most printers, including ourselves, will require you submit your files as a PDF in RGB. This is because DTG printers often have a bunch of extra inks other than Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. They also have halftones like light cyan, light magenta, orange or violet.

How to Convert RGB to CMYK before beginning design

How to convert to CMYK in Photoshop

Step 1: Open a New File  
Open Photoshop and go to Menu > File > New. A New Document window will open where you will define the settings for your file before starting your design. Choose the Print option in the banner menu and define a Document Name to the right underneath Preset Details.

Step 2: Set the Color Mode to CMYK
Select CMYK in the Color Mode drop-down menu.

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

How to convert to CMYK in Illustrator

Step 1: Open a New File

Open Illustrator and go to Menu> File> New. A New Document window will open where you will define the settings for your file before starting your design. Choose the Print option in the Banner Menu and define a Document Name to the right underneath Preset Details.

Step 2: Set the Color Mode to CMYK
Under Advanced Options, make sure the Color Mode option is set to CMYK.

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

How to convert to CMYK in InDesign

Step 1: Open a New File
Open InDesign and go to Top Menu>File>New>Document. A New Document window will open where you will define the settings for your file before starting your design. Choose the Print option in the banner menu and define a Document Name to the right underneath Preset Details.

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

InDesign will use CMYK by default.

To check your elements and ensure they are in CMYK mode, follow these steps.

Step 1: Open your document.
Click the “Selection Tool.”

Step 2: Click the “Window” menu.
Make sure there is a check mark beside “Color.” If there is not, click “Color” and the “Color Panel” will open.

Step 3: Check the “Color Panel” attributes.
Look at the Color panel. The attributes will tell you if the color is in CMYK, such as “C=100 Y=100 M=100 K=100,” for example. If the attributes look like this: “R=57 G=46 B=122,” then the document is in RGB, not CMYK.

How to Convert RGB to CMYK after beginning design

It is very important to make sure that you start designing in CMYK from the beginning. While there is a way to convert the color mode after the fact, it will adjust the colors slightly since color profiles do not contain the same exact colors.  Below is how to easily switch to CMYK mode in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.

How to convert to CMYK in Photoshop

Step 1: Convert to CMYK.
To convert your file into CMYK color mode go to Top Menu > Image > Mode > CMYK Color.

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Step 2: Respond to First Warning Message.
When changing the color mode of a project, it’s likely that a few warnings will pop up. If there are ‘Smart Objects’ in your document, the first warning informs you that changing color mode will cause changes in appearance, and asks if you want to rasterize Smart Objects. Click on ‘Do Not Rasterize’.

Step 3: Respond to Second Warning Message.
The second warning will inform you that changing the color mode may discard some adjustment layers. In response to this notice, you must click ‘Merge’, because this will keep the appearance of your document the same.

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Note: If you click ‘Don’t Merge’, you may see a change in file appearance.

Step 4: Respond to Third Warning Message.
The third notice will tell you which color profile the CMYK will apply to. Click OK because the software already conforms to this default automatically.

Photoshop is typically set to RGB Color by default so it is important to double check when you begin working on a project you intend to print.

How to convert to CMYK in Illustrator

When creating a “New Document” in Illustrator you’ll want to make sure that you are designing in “Print” mode and not “Web”. By selecting “Print” you will automatically be working with the CMYK color profile. If you have started your design but did not convert to CMYK it is an easy fix.

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Step 1: Go to Document Color Mode.
Go to Top Menu> File> Document Color Mode> CMYK Color.

How to convert to CMYK in InDesign

Step 1: Open Document Setup.
Go to Top Menu > File > Document Setup.

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Step 2: Set Intent to Print.
A second window will open where you can edit some features of the document. In the ‘Intent’ field choose ‘Print’ option. Selecting this option will automatically allow you to work in CMYK.

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Resources to help convert between color modes.

Here are some articles explaining how to convert to CMYK in each Adobe Suite design tool:

How to Match CMYK to Pantone

How to convert from CMYK to Pantone in Illustrator

Step 1: Select the object you want to convert.

Step 2: Open “Recolor Artwork.”
Select Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork.

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Click to open the Limits the color group to colors in a swatch library menu.

Step 3: Choose the desired Pantone Color book and click “OK.”

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Step 4: The new Pantone swatches generated from the selected artwork are assigned to the artwork, and appear in the Swatches panel.

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

CMYK to Pantone converter.

CMYK Color Chart

Listed below are commonly used CMYK colors and their corresponding CMYK color codes.

“Shiny” CMYK Colors

Gold CMYK C 0% M 14% Y 70% K 15%
Silver CMYK C 0% M 0% Y 0% K 25%
Bronze CMYK C 0% M 38% Y 76% K 20%
Copper CMYK C 0% M 38% Y 72% K 28%
Rose Gold CMYK C 0% M 40% Y 34% K 28%

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Neutral CMYK Colors

Brown CMYK C 0%  M 34% Y 67% K 60%
Tan CMYK C 0%  M 14% Y 33% K 18%
Grey CMYK C 0%  M 0% Y 0% K 48%
Cream CMYK C 0%  M 1% Y 18% K 0%
Ivory CMYK C 0%  M 0% Y 6% K 0%
Beige CMYK C 0%  M 0% Y 10% K 4%

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Basic CMYK Black

Rich Black CMYK C 50%  M 50% Y 50% K 100%
True Black CMYK C 0%  M 0% Y 0% K 100%

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

There are a variety of other CMYK shades of black including flat black, registration black, cool black, designer black, golden black, and warm black.

Read more about CMYK Black: A Designer’s Guide to Working with CMYK Black

Popular CMYK Red

Red CMYK C 0% M 84% Y 80% K 19%
Burgundy CMYK C 0% M 100% Y 75% K 50%
Hot Pink CMYK C 0% M 59% Y 29% K 0%
Coral CMYK C 0% M 47% Y 51% K 3%

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

CMYK Orange & Yellow

Orange CMYK C 0% M 69% Y 100% K 0%
Neon Orange CMYK C 0% M 49% Y 100% K 0%
Yellow CMYK C 0% M 0% Y 100% K 0%

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Shades of CMYK Green

Green CMYK C 100% M 0% Y 100% K 0%
Forest Green CMYK C 76% M 0% Y 76% K 45%
Hunter Green CMYK C 44% M 0% Y 37% K 63%
Kelly Green CMYK C 59% M 0% Y 88% K 27%
Neon Green CMYK C 79% M 0% Y 92% K 0%
Mint Green CMYK C 29% M 0% Y 13% K 6%

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

The CMYK Blue’s

Blue CMYK C 100% M 100% Y 0% K 0%
Royal Blue CMYK C 71% M 53% Y 0% K 12%
Navy Blue CMYK C 100% M 100% Y 10% K 50%
Teal CMYK C 60% M 14% Y 0% K 47%
Cobalt Blue CMYK C 100% M 58% Y 0% K 33%

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Popular CMYK Purple

Purple CMYK C 29% M 52% Y 0% K 34%
Lavender CMYK C 18% M 32% Y 0% K 29%

The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The CMYK color model is a subtractive color model, used in color printing. CMYK refers to the four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Resources for More CMYK Color Codes

CMYK Color Codes
CMYK Color Chart

Related Posts

A Designer’s Guide to Working With CMYK Black

Featured image by: Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash
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Jackie Vlahos is the Content Specialist at Printi. She is an expert in design, marketing and anything in between. When she's not blogging her life away, she can be found with a camera in one hand and a coffee in the other.

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