There are two main colour modes used in professional design and marketing today: RGB and CMYK. These two options seem similar to the untrained eye (after all, they both print in colour) but there are actually important distinctions between them — and these differences determine when they should be used. 

Which colour mode is right for your printed projects? Let’s find out!

What is RGB?

RGB stands for “Red, Green, Blue.” This colour mode creates a variety of shades and hues, simply by combining these three primary colours in varying degrees. RGB colour modes are “additive,” meaning they add more ink to the print in order to achieve your desired shade. 


What is CMYK?

CMYK stands for “Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key” (Key is another word for black). This colour mode is “subtractive,” which means it begins with a pure white combination of all colours and subtracts ink to create your ideal shade. This is the most common colour mode for printed marketing materials.


What’s The Difference?

RGB and CMYK will both provide you with a variety of shades and colours for your project. So why does it matter which colour mode you choose? The answer has to do with HOW you expect people to view your finished product. RGB and CMYK colour modes are specially designed to suit different mediums — namely, digital vs. printed products. 

RGB offers a smaller colour palette (three colours vs. four) because it is designed to use the colours found inside your electronics: red, green, and blue. The light sources inside your computer, smartphone, or television uses these three colours in varying intensity to create the vibrant and vivid images on your screen. 

By contrast, CMYK is designed for printed materials like signage, posters, business cards, leaflets and brochures. CMYK is what printing companies refer to as “four-colour printing,” and it’s what you’ll find in both your home printer and (in superior quality, of course) professional printing companies. 

When To Use RGB

When graphic designers convert RGB designs (ones they created on their computers, for example) to printed products with CMYK, they usually end up disappointed. RGB designs appear dull and muddy on CMYK printers — which is why it’s always best to use the CMYK colour mode for all printed materials. 

However, this doesn’t mean that you should always avoid RGB colour modes! Here are a few projects that will benefit from using RGB:

Website Design

A company should optimize its website for the best possible viewing experience. As people will always be looking at your website through some form of screen (their computer, phone, tablet, etc.), this is the perfect time to use RGB colours in your design. Your images will be stunning and bright, which is sure to attract your audience’s attention. 

Social Media

Once again, this is a medium that exists exclusively online. Social media posts are meant to be seen, shared, and discussed all in the digital sphere, and that means they need to be screen-optimized. This is particularly true for platforms like Instagram, which focuses heavily on aesthetic and pleasing images. If you design a post meant for your business social media pages, make sure you use RGB!

Company Logos

Company logos are a crucial part of your brand identity. They need to look great and represent you both online and in printed marketing materials. For this reason, it’s wise to design two logos — one using RGB and another with CMYK. Even if these two logos are identical (which they should be for a consistent brand identity), the two different colour modes will ensure you have the best possible logo wherever it happens to be.

When To Use CMYK

By now, it should be clear that CMYK is the best colour mode to use for your printed marketing materials. It is the best choice for a bright and colorful printed image — and since most printing companies use CMYK printers anyway, it’s best to plan accordingly during the design process. You can use CMYK colour modes for any printed projects, such as: 

Leaflets and Flyers

Leaflets and flyers need to catch the eye from across the room or down the road. The best way to do that is with striking visuals! A great colour poster printed with CMYK is certain to attract attention and spread the word about your company or special event. Just make sure to design your poster in a suitable file type; PDFs and AI (Adobe Illustrator) files are ideal for CMYK.

Business Cards

Business cards are another printed material that can benefit from CMYK colour modes. Your business card needs to look sharp and professional, with colours and font that match your brand identity perfectly. As we mentioned earlier, RGB colours can be altered slightly on a CMYK printer, so it’s best to design your business cards with CMYK in mind. 

Branded Merchandise

Does your company have any branded “swag,” like stickers, t-shirts, or promotional mugs? You guessed it: all of these items will use a CMYK printer. If you want your merchandise to look colourful and vivid — and, more importantly, match the branding on your company website — you will need to use CMYK colour modes when you design these products. 

The Right Choice for Your Print Marketing Materials

Creating a strong and consistent brand identity is an important part of helping your business thrive. But of course, creativity is only half the battle — you also need the right tools to create a professional finished product. If you need to create printed marketing materials that are as sharp and clean as they are creative, Banana Print is an excellent resource to help you succeed. 

Take a look at our options for printing flyers, promotional gifts, business cards, and much more today.