RGB vs. CMYK: A Colorful Showdown

Eyewire, citizen science, RGB, CMYK

What’s a graphic designer’s “favorite” process? Converting the digital colors on a computer screen to the analog printed product! Oh… it’s not at all their favorite? Why could that be? Starting at 11 AM EDT on 11/1 and going for 24 hours, it’s time for some optics and color theory.

RGB: Red, green, and blue, the primary colors of light. Because this color model uses light itself, RGB is additive; presuming darkness, i.e. the absence of any light, the base colors are combined to produce certain light frequencies at various points on the visible spectrum, including white light (all colors at once).

CMYK: Cyan, magenta, yellow, and “key,” meaning the color plate used for printing detail work, generally using black ink. Like other pigment-based color models, CMYK is subtractive; presuming a white background, the base colors are combined to absorb (and thus reduce or remove) certain light frequencies, causing us to see other colors.

These aren’t the only color models out there, but RGB is the most common for digital displays, while CMYK is the most common for printers. Because digital displays literally light up whereas printers have to use pigment, it’s hard to create a color model that you can use between both forms of media. Therefore, when printing an image, RGB to CMYK conversion has to happen. If you’ve chosen colors in RGB that don’t adapt well to the CMYK format, your beautiful poster design might look rather unpleasant instead.

So… another digital vs. analog question for you, Eyewirers. What’s your favorite color model of these two?

All point bonus info is available through your competition notification on eyewire.org. For science!

Artwork by Rabbit Giraud