CMYK vs RGB: Which One Should You Use?

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by Adam Wright

Have you ever wondered the difference between CMYK and RGB?

Well, you’ve come to the right place.

For those who don’t even know what CMYK or RGB is, these are two different color models used in design. Depending on your end product, you will decide which color model is best.


CMYK stands for Cyan Magenta Yellow and Key (black). These are the four ink colors that are combined in various quantities to make up the color output you need.

(Side note: the reason the K stands for Key is because of the original creation of printing plates. The Key plate aligned the CMY plates and provided the details of the image.)

The model of the colors are what’s called subtractive. The inks are made to reduce the reflection of light from the brightness of the paper (which most commonly is white).

Most importantly, CMYK is primarily used for print.

The main problem faced with CMYK, is that it usually prints out darker, or less vivid, than what you see on your computer screen. To avoid problems, doing a test print on your correct paper/material will help you nail down the color you are looking for.


RGB stands for Red Green and Blue. These are the three colors of light that are used to create the images on your electronic devices. Most commonly: your computer and television.

Unlike CMYK, the RGB model is what’s called additive. The three lights of color (red, green, and blue) are added together to make the final color’s spectrum.

When designing for an electronic medium, you should always use the RGB color model.

For example, if you are designing a new image to go up on your website, this needs to be in RGB.

If you are designing a new Facebook cover photo, you use RGB.

Here at AWD, when we design our posts for Instagram, we design using RGB. The end result will only be viewed on a screen, therefore there is no need for CMYK.


An issue we face every day is images that are pixelated or blurry. This is a result of the images not having a large enough resolution.

For print, or CMYK, it is best practice to always have your images be at least 300 dpi (dots per inch).

For web, or RGB, it is most common to only need 72 ppi (pixels per inch).

The difference in resolution is because your computer can relay the color with more intricacy than a printer can on paper. Therefore, a higher quality image is always necessary for printing.


I know the color models can be a little bit confusing to know how it works, but just remember:



Have a file that you need help with? Let us know! We are happy to help setup your files correctly for the most optimum quality.

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Adam Wright

Adam is a California native, now living in Middle Tennessee. A long-time creative at heart, his passion for design and growing his small business, AWD, is always evident. When he's not writing code or sketching logos, he enjoys spending time with family, playing basketball, or watching just about any motorsports. Find him on LinkedIn.