It is important to understand the difference between RGB and CMYK when preparing files for print. There are complex factors behind why your printed images appear different from what you see on-screen, however, we will discuss how to minimize or avoid these discrepancies.


RGB: Red, Green, Blue

  • Colour space used for web display
  • Device contains a light source
  • 100% R+G+B = White

RGB is the colour space used by computer displays. Although the RGB gamut offers thousands of colour choices, depending on your device, colours will vary. Systems with a smaller RGB gamut will crop colours to the nearest available display colour for that device.

Every monitor displays colours slightly differently depending on factors such as brightness, the age of the monitor, lighting and whether it is a Mac or a PC.

We recommend calibrating your monitor regularly for ideal accuracy. TR Trades sells monitor calibrators and offers same day delivery.

Examples of RGB Devices:


CMYK: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black

  • Colour space used by all digital print devices
  • Device contains no light source
  • 100% C+M+Y = Black (K)

The CMYK colour space is also referred to as four-colour, 4C or process. To reproduce a colour, a file is separated into four different ink colours (CMYK).

Process colours are represented as percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Varying the percentages offers thousands of colour possibilities.

During separation, screen tints comprised of small dots are applied at different angles to each of the four colours. The composite image fools the naked eye with the illusion of continuous tone.

Examples of CMYK Devices:


The colour gamut is the range of colours achievable specific to individual devices. All CMYK devices have different colour gamuts. For example, a standard small format laser printer typically contains only 4 inks (cyan, magenta, yellow and black), where as many inkjet printers can contain up to 12 inks, allowing them to achieve a larger colour gamut.

Visible Colours: The human eye has the largest colour gamut.
RGB: RGB devices have the second largest colour gamut
CMYK: CMYK devices have the smallest colour gamut

It is important to understand how to build files and how they will convert to CMYK for digital printing. Coverting colour spaces is not a simple formula.

TR Trades offers Colour Management Seminars educating our clients on digital colour concepts and the basics of colour management.

Interested in a Colour Seminar?

Accurately reproducing colours is not a simple process—let us teach you some basic tools to improve your colour output!

Here are a few simple tips you can implement immediately:

  • 1. Build your files using sRGB in an Adobe program.
    This colour space is almost entirely reproducible on CMYK devices.
  • 2. Use a Pantone swatch book to choose your colours.
    When designing on your computer, if you select a bright green or orange, it will likely not reproduce accurately in CMYK. To get an accurate idea of how your colours will print, reference the CMYK section of a Pantone swatch book when selecting them.
  • 3. Calibrate your monitor regularly.
    TR Trades sells monitor calibrators and can have them delivered to your office within the same day.
  • 4. TR Trades recommends exporting your PDF versus “printing to PDF”.
  • 5. Use Soft Proofing.
    All Adobe programs have a “soft proofing” function that allows you to see which of your RGB colours will not print accurately in CMYK. When soft proofing, you will clearly see which colours will be cropped to the nearest colour reproducible in CMYK.

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