Understanding colour, a brief explanation

Which format is best, and how do I choose?

CMYK / RGB / Pantone, which is best?

It depends on what you want to achieve. All have a valid and creditable case as to why you should choose each one.

CMYK Almost all printing today uses this format. C meaning Cyan, M being Magenta, Y = Yellow and K, which is Black. Black is refereed to as K (K being the key colour).

Most digital presses use CMYK in a form of suspended liquid ink or toner, these presses have a very vibrant colour space (colour gamut) which is far greater than an offset press – the traditional way of printing. Offset presses use plates and liquid ink to print in full colour.

The benefits of printing CMYK is cost. Most offset presses are set to print in this format, along with all digital. Allowing for a quick set up (referred to as a make ready) and the press will produce it’s first sheet within minutes.

It is general practice to produce files in CMYK using industry standard software such as Adobe Creative Cloud in a Fogra profile which is the UK industry standard colour profile.

RGB colour is based around an additive colour model. Red, Green and Blue are combined to create a vast range of colours. This is the standard method of creating colours through light for monitors, TV’s, electronic devices like mobile phones and tablets etc.

The benefit of using RGB within a printing environment is only practicable for a digital print setting (not offset). As mentioned earlier, digital presses have a broader colour range and setting an image or range of images in the artwork as RGB means a more vibrant, life-like image when printed. Perfect for property brochures, school calendars and photo-books, all of which we produce regularly for our clients and individuals.

Pantone was founded in 1962 in New York. Since 1963, their PMS (Pantone Matching System) has been used in printing and changed the way we refer to colour.

Pantone colours are specifically designed for a consistent and accurate colour match everytime. They are solid pigment inks, which are not generated via CMYK or RGB.

In the offset world of printing, Pantone colours are referred to as ‘special’ and are often run alongside CMYK as a fifth ink. The standard for all Pantone colours are matched to a vast range of paper and media stocks.

The vibrancy of colours digital presses can print (colour gamut), has in more recent years greatly added the reproduction of Pantone colours using CMYK. Using a digital device to print a close match to a Pantone colour omits the additional cost of a fifth colour.

All that said, if your job is colour critical using the solid Pantone (PMS) system is the only solution within offset environment and has been the case since 1963!

If you have any questions, Continuum are always happy to help you achieve the best results with your print.

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Continuum have a combined experience of nearly 30 years of print & design knowledge. We have been helping many household names, small companies and individuals bring their ideas to life with extensive knowledge of the industry, latest technology and design trends.