Brochures in CMYK Explained

One of the most common mistakes made in brochure printing is to send your printing company a design containing RGB colors. Although this mistake is not detrimental to your design, you are certain to receive different hues of colors than you may have been expecting. Professional printing companies use the CMYK color model rather than the web designer's RGB color model so that your color brochures look brilliant. Here's why:


In short, CMYK and RGB can be seen as two different color languages. RGB is the language for screen displays, since red, green, and blue are the primary colors of light. Web designers use RGB colors because of the richness in tone these colors produce on screen. CMYK is the language for print, since cyan, magenta, and yellow are the primary colors of ink. Although C, M, and Y can produce black when mixed, Black, or Key, is a part of the CMYK color model for two main reasons: to create a richer black and to prevent the need to oversoak the paper by including too many layers of cyan, magenta, and yellow. To create the right blend of colors on your printed brochures, a plate is created for each color and each image ensuring much more accurate and quality results.

Conversion Considerations

The RGB colors have a wider range of colors simply because there is a limit to how many colors can be mixed using ink (i.e. the CMYK model). This can provide problems when trying to convert an RGB color design to CMYK. There's also the problem of "seeing" the correct CMYK shades on your screen. What is printed will be different than what appears on screen. But there are solutions. Here are some ideas for getting better color results on your printed brochures:

  • Design in RGB, flatten the image, and then convert to CMYK. Since CMYK produces a more muted look, you may want to play around with the saturation or texture, and then flatten it one more time before sending to print.
  • Design in CMYK. To do this, though, you will need to calibrate your monitor for print, and even after you monitor is calibrated, what you see on your screen may appear slightly different than what gets printed. Using a color swatch to choose CMYK colors is your best bet for accurate hues.
  • Design in RGB and let your printer to the conversion for you. This may cost you extra, though, and sometimes a printing company may not even offer this solution. Sending a color chart along with your design will help the printer more accurately convert your colors, but making the conversion yourself allows you to sharpen the image to get the exact look you desire.

There really is no "perfect" solution for converting RGB to CMYK, but fortunately by following one of the options above, you'll get close enough. Just remember, a customer is only going to see the final result, so just as long as the colors in your brochure look brilliant, your clients are not going to care if the colors are just a shade off from your desired results.

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