White Papers

RGB vs. CMYK vs. PMS – Why doesn’t my print out look like my screen?

RGB vs. CMYK vs. PMS – Why doesn't my print out look like my screen, and what do all these letters mean?


First, let's cover what the letters mean:

Because what you see on your monitor is not the same as the printed page, designers use PMS colors as a standardized point of reference.

CMY(K) colors work by "subtracting" or absorbing light reflected from a white piece of paper. With no ink or toner on the page, 100% of the light is reflected back to the eye and the paper appears white. By adding 100% density of each C, M, Y, (ink, toner) to a sheet, they absorb all the (white) light and we perceive the color as black (the absence of all color). By varying the amounts of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow, we can produce a immense number of colors, however, not as extensive as the gamut of color produced in the RGB method. While 100% CMY will produce black by themselves, black toner/ink is often added to them to provide more density and smoother transitions.

RGB works in the opposite way. Your computer monitor is essentially black, and light is added to produce color. When all 3 colors are added at 100%, it will produce white.

Both CMYK and RGB can approximate Pantone colors, some more satisfying than others. CMYK and RGB colors generally differ from each other. While some CMYK and RBG colors translate to print very well, others such as vibrant blues and oranges may print substantially different than what appears on screen.

Many color critical facilities spend thousands of dollars calibrating and setting up very structured and specific workflows to render the closest approximation from screen to print. Even in the most exacting environment, you are still viewing a CMYK color approximation on a RGB device.

What can I do when designing for print?

If you have questions about how CMW can assist you with producing printed pieces that are color accurate, please call 800-737-1123 and ask to speak with an imaging technician.

About Creative MediaWorks, Inc.
Creative MediaWorks is committed to being a full service graphics provider—offering creative design, digital imaging and digital media services. The goal of each project is to achieve the highest levels of client satisfaction while producing excellent quality graphic media on-time.

For over 20 years we've built a solid reputation as a trusted digital media partner in the healthcare community. Creative MediaWorks specializes in the development and production of compelling visual graphics for healthcare meetings, which include: interactive CD/DVD-ROM programs, website development, mechanism of action animation, animated directional signage, digital media presentations, scientific poster layout, large-format digital printing, dynamic PowerPoint presentations and more.

About Us

White Papers