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colour formats

CMYK and PMS are the standard colour formats for the print industry. Knowing which format to use on your artwork will help towards getting your file print ready. This guide will also give a brief explanation of Greyscale and RGB.


CMYK is the most popular colour format in print and it stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black; the four ink colours used in off-set and digital printing. CMYK is sometimes referred to as full colour or process colour, the process works by mixing the four transparent inks (CMYK) to produce a wide range of colours. CMYK can be used on vector graphics, bitmap graphics and photos.

Pros:  Cost effective, gradients, many colours can be created from just 4 inks, blends and photos etc are easily created in CMYK. Can be used on both vectors and images.    
Cons: Certain PMS and RGB colours cannot be reproduced out of CMYK. There can be variations in colour between print batches in litho and digital.

Pantone icons
PMS stands for Pantone® Matching System. PMS colours often referred to as spot colours are ready mixed inks created by the Pantone® Corporation. Unlike CMYK inks which are transparent, Pantone® inks are opaque and contain many colours unachievable with CMYK. Pantone® have several colour swatches, with a separate swatch for coated papers (C) and uncoated papers (U).

Pros: A wide choice of colours available with excellent colour consistency, many of which are are unachievable with CMYK.

Cons: Expensive process due to using special inks compared with CMYK, less versatile than CMYK. Only suitable with vectors.

greyscale icons

Greyscale is used to achieve various shades of grey from white to black using just black ink, it is also referred to as monochrome. White is 0% and Black is 100%, anything in between is a shade of grey, so a midtone grey would be 50% black and a light grey would be 10% black and so on.

Pros: Inexpensive.
Cons: Limited to just black, white and greys. 

RGB icons

RGB Colour format is used on digital displays ie. mobile phones, tablets etc, it stands for Red, Green, Blue.
Due to screens being illuminated, they are capable of producing very bright, vivid colours which are not possible to recreate through CMYK or PMS. Office based programs such as MS Word will use the RGB colour format.

Pros: There is none, RGB is not suitable for print
Cons: RGB colour cannot be printed, it must first be converted to CMYK, this conversion process can cause colour changes, this is especially true with bright, vivid RGB colours - they can appear to be dull or flat after the conversion to CMYK. You might be able to improve the colour by using a photo editing program such as photoshop but a certain level of skill is required and there is no guarantee of the end result.
Our system will automatically convert RGB to CMYK but (if possible) we would always recommend that you provide your artwork in CMYK format. 

Image showing vector RGB converted to CMYK       Image showing RGB image converted to CMYK