Color Mode refers to the color reference chart a graphic element is utilizing to reproduce its visible colors. This section will cover three of the most widely used color modes in the commercial graphics industry.
RGB (Red, Green, Blue)
This mode is used for graphic elements having an end result of displaying on a monitor (web design, TV, etc.). It uses what is called the “Additive” color model, which basically means it “adds” percentages of Red, Green, and Blue filters, combined with the process of passing light through these filters to create color.
Because the RGB color mode creates its own light, this mode is able to reproduce a much larger gamut of colors, levels, contrast, and detail versus pieces utilizing other color models such as the next mode we will discuss, CMYK.
- RGB is utilized for graphic elements with an end destination on a screen – such as a web design and television.
- RGB utilizes Red, Green, and Blue filters combined with light to create color.
- 100% (or 255) of Red, Green, and Blue = White
- RGB is able to reproduce a much larger gamut of colors vs CMYK but not as many as the full visible spectrum.
CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black)
The CMYK color mode is utilized in the printing industry and is based on what is called the “Subtractive” color model, which uses percentages of pigmented inks possessing the ability to reflect light, being subtracted from each other to create a white color (which is typically the color of the substrate – paper).
- CMYK is utilized for reproducing graphic elements in the printing industry.
- CMYK utilizes percentages of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black pigmented inks that reflect light is applied to a white substrate (typically paper) to create color.
- CMYK uses the “Subtractive” color model – subtracting the inks from each other to create colors from rich black (100% of each) to white (0% of each).
- CMYK is dependent on surrounding light…poor lighting = poor visible color.
- Paper color can affect image color – In this mode, white is equal to the color of your substrate (paper) – dingy paper can equate to dingy colors.
Pantone (Spot Colors)
This is a preset standard set of ink colors created and maintained by X-Rite and Pantone. These colors are available for several different mediums and have expected value differences across the mediums. Pantone is the authority for providing consistent color across industries for both color selection and accuracy. This system helps create a common language between the pressroom to the customer when talking about color. These spot colors are used typically for brand management across several different print types. But they are also used when creating new designs or tweaking old designs to bring them up to an achievable color.
When using the RGB color mode, millions of colors are available for on-screen viewing. Many of these colors are either not available or have poor conversions to CMYK for reproduction in printing. Always design in CMYK for projects that will be printed. If using RGB, some colors will dull when converted from RGB to CMYK. Some colors can be tweaked to be better but will not achieve the vibrant greens, blues, and neon colors available in the RGB color mode. See examples below.
RGB Color Mode
CMYK Color Mode
RGB vs CMYK
Registration actually has two meanings when it comes to printing.
- A word used to reference the actual alignment of the colors during printing or while at the press. The alignment of the CMYK plates. All 4 plates have to be in alignment or registered to each other to create the end result of a clear and quality printed piece. (An example of badly registered plates would be most commonly seen in newsprint when one color peeks out from the others.) When the plates are not aligned properly the copy can appear blurry or have an out of focus appearance.
- A color used in a printed piece to help the printing presses align the colors. Usually used in the margins as guides for the press operator during the production of the project. There is no need for this color to be used within the actual document itself.
The Registration color may be present in the color picker in many design programs but is not intended for use within a document. When the document is set up this color is usually included in the color selection and named "Registration". Other colors generally in the default color selections are Black, White, Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Light Blue, Pink. If the color "Registration" is used as the text color, for example, it can cause the print to be blurry and hard to read. Never use the "Registration" color for backgrounds, text, or any other element within a document. (Always use true 100% Black for text and lines).
Registration Color Swatch
(InDesign default color swatches)
Registration Color Swatch
Illustrator default color swatch
Rich Black is a mixed color reserved for a large section of black or background that is black or something similar. This color mix can be a different blend at each print manufacturer. Pittcraft prefers to use a mix of Cyan=50 Magenta=40 Yellow=30 Black=100. (Do not use the "Registration" color as the "Rich Black" color substitute! It creates too much ink in one location on the printed piece and can result in longer drying times and poor quality print due to extra ink buildup.)
Black Text & Strokes
Any text and stroke that appears Black should always be 100% Black and no other colors. If a grey text or line is needed use 70% black. Do not use a mix of CMYK to create a grey color. This will usually result in a green-grey or blue-grey appearance and will not reproduce the neutral grey as anticipated. Your project will print much better and achieve a more neutral appearance if the black text and strokes remain black only.
Line Strokes used in a document should have a minimum .25 pt rule. Do not use Hairline (it will not print consistently).
Rich Black Color
Lines & Strokes