It’s a question I get a lot. Why don’t printed colours match what I see on my screen?

The fact is, colour will never look the same printed as it does on screen. It will always look slightly duller or darker. That’s because what you’re seeing on your screen is backlit – and a printer will never be able to print light.

Monitors emit light, and paper absorbs light.

And that brings us to CMYK and RGB. Let’s break it down.

For Web/Digital Design: RGB

RGB simply stands for Red, Green, Blue. Your monitor displays colours in RGB and can actually display over 16 million colours. The human eye can only distinguish about 7 million colours?

When designing websites or digital assets, we use RGB. On your computer screen, colours are shown as red, green and blue light – which can be combined to create any colour in the visible spectrum. This is also true for your TV, phones and other screen-based devices.

For Print: CMYK

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (key refers to black) – yes, the ink colours you buy with your printer. With these traditional printing inks, the final printed colour is made by combining cyan, magenta, yellow and black together. The CMYK colour gamut has less colours than RGB due to the lack of light.

When designing something for print, we use CMYK colour mode. That’s because this colour mode will give the designer better control over the final print outcome.Still, when you’re looking at a CMYK design on a screen, you’re still looking at a screen that is emitting light, so there will be slight variances.

A note about display colours
What’s also tricky about this, is that different screens may not be calibrated the same way, causing slight differences in colours. I might see a navy on my Macbook, but it looks slightly more purple on someone else’s Lenovo. That’s why sometimes when you’re shopping online you might see a disclaimer about slight variances in colour. It’s important to always communicate with your designer about colours so that you end up with the ideal solution.